Less than one month ago, we wrote a piece for our local newspaper in which we tore our hair at the idea that earmarks had been inserted in the bill that kept us from going over the fiscal cliff.
At the time, we had put a Google Alert on line in order to identify legislators who had slipped these earmarks into a bill that was allegedly intended to help stave off financial ruin, not to mention assisting some of our needier citizens in their daily struggles to find work, feed their families, and return to the middle class.
Google Search didn’t turn up much. After all, for years earmarks were anonymous, generally slipped into omnibus bills – i.e., big ticket items that reached over class, antagonisms, party like bills for infrastructure activity, or tax bills, or war bills – by legislators with an eye to their own future re-elections. Bringing home the bacon was a sure way to endear oneself to the voters of one’s district, and these earmark projects were not forgotten by the electorate.
Suddenly, this week, Google Search paid off, after having been alerted by the New York Times.
It was discovered that one of the earmarks in “The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012” went to biotech firm called Amgen, a drug company with a long history of lobbying in D.C., as well as a more recent history of paying a fine to the government in criminal and civil penalties totaling $762 million dollars, a record settlement for a biotech company. The suit was settled in the midst of the fiscal cliff Congressional discussion.
What Amgen secured through its army of 74 lobbyists was a two year expansion of being able to sell a pill used by kidney dialysis patients without Government control, i.e., for however much money they wanted. This two year delay in making the drug generic is estimated to cost Medicare up to $500 million dollars over that two year period.
Guess what? That $500 million gift will be deducted from the annual revenues we taxpayers send to the government to pay our ordinary bills, like those for wars, international programs, infrastructure projects, unemployment benefits, food stamps, and healthcare, to name but a few.
In short, this little earmark increased our national debt by approximately $500 millions dollars.
In our newspaper column we surmised that the villains behind these earmarks were undisciplined Tea Partiers, or old hands in the Senate used to doing business this way, or to the fact that so much legislation these days is written directly for legislatures by lobbyists.
We now know who was behind this gift to Amgen. We thought you would like to know, too.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who’s up for re-election in 2014; Senator Oren Hatch of Utah who just barely survived an election, and Senator Max Baucus of Montana – these last two holding heavy sway over Medicare payment policy as leaders of the Senate Finance Committee. The only good thing we can say is that this was a bi-partisan giveaway, insofar as Senator Baucus is a Democrat.
Since 2007, Amgen’s political action committee has contributed nearly $5 million dollars to various sympathetic congressmen and causes. $67,750 dollars has gone to Mr. Hatch. Mr. McConnell raked in $73,000 dollars. Amgen has contributed to Glacier PAC, sponsored by Mr. Baucus in Montana, and to Utah Families Foundation, which was founded by Mr. Hatch and brings the senator positive press coverage in his state’s news media.
Here is one exculpatory statement from Mr. Hatch’s staff: “Sometimes when you try to do too much and too quickly, you screw up. Our goal is to ensure that quality care is not compromised for dialysis patients.”
That, and making sure your boss is re-elected.
Call this hand-washing, back-scratching, or even just politics as usual, it all reeks of corruption. And the bill for this giveaway, as noted before, is our own.
To our mind, Mr. McConnell and Mr. Hatch are two of the sleaziest holier-than-thou members of the Senate. Mr.Baucus has not, so far, aspired to that august status, at least publicly.
Incidentally, researchers have found that Medicare’s practice of reimbursing providers with separate payments for drugs and for dialysis treatments encouraged over-prescription because the providers made healthy profits with each dose. They also found that high doses posed cardiovascular risks to patients.
Not too surprisingly, despite legislation against the so-called revolving door, Amgen employees have found lucrative and influential positions on the staffs of the three senators. And staff members have reversed course, too, taking well-paid jobs with Amgen when retiring from the senate.
So, for the next three or four months, when you watch these three august and “respected” members of the Senate establishment hold forth on healthcare matters and budgetary maneuverings, keep in mind that they are probably not on the up and up.
Forget about listening to the Senate minority leader, Mr.McConnell, scold and warn and fight against administrative appointments and desired programs. It’s more than just “saying no” to the president. It’s more than simply being an obstructive Republican. What it’s really about is making sure he will be re-elected in Kentucky in 2014. To us, this smells, tastes, sounds and looks like fraud.
Mr. Baucus fancies himself an environmentalist of the sensible kind. His landscape is papered with money from contributors who, even while being investigated by the government, had the brass to give with both hands, one full of loot for the Senator and the other full of loot in fines for the government. Oh, and we mustn’t forget that Amgen has also contributed to $141,000 to the Obama campaigns. This is called insurance.
As for the redoubtable Mr. Hatch, who years ago came down from his mountaintop to slander Anita Hill and voted to approve Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, while he has tried to maintain a fairly low profile in these past few months – and with good reason, we now know – he’s committed to playing both sides of any argument. He declaims against the runaway Republicans in the House and then, on this past inauguration day, wore a ten gallon cowboy hat in sympathy with them.
Being truthful, a seat in the Senate is a guarantee of income and power past and in the future. No wonder then men and women will do anything to retain their privileges.
What we can do for them is relieve them of the heavy burdens of office at every opportunity.