Billy Tauzin can take his resume down from Monster.com now. With his retirement from Congress imminent, he can now while away his golden years as the new president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association (PhRMA).
Here is how a Tauzin ally framed the decision today:
"He put everything on hold until he beat the cancer and made his last vote," said the source, who asked not to be identified.
"It's not a conflict. It maybe [was] fair criticism when he was chairman of the Commerce Committee, but he's no longer a member of Congress. He's 61, had a near-death experience, and he's got a right to go out and make a living."
The source said Tauzin wants to be a "patient-advocate CEO."
Oh, stop. I'm getting all teary-eyed now, and look what you made me do to my copy of the prescription drug benefit bill. I'm happy for him, really I am.
What's the big deal? After all, members of Congress often get jobs as lobbyists upon leaving office. It's not just because of their personal and political contacts and knowledge of the game, the bread and butter of lobbyists. What makes them so valuable is that former membership has its privileges. Among other things, they can hang out in the cloakroom and go to spin class at the members' gym, places us ordinary mortals never see unless we're cleaning the toilets. A Washington Post story from a few months ago lays out the issues nicely.
What makes this job special was the particularly unseemly way Tauzin obtained it. Shortly after the House completed work on the prescription drug bill a little over a year ago, for which he was at the center of negotiations as chair of House Energy and Commerce, word leaked that he was considering a job with big PhRMA.
Let's remind ourselves of what he said at the time:
"I'm not soliciting employment from anyone," said Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, R-Louisiana, in his first public comments since word surfaced last week that he was considering an offer to head PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association. The organization is considered one of the most influential lobbies in Washington.
In the exchange with CNN, Tauzin insisted he hasn't decided whether to take the PhRMA job. Four separate times he said, "Right now, I'm just doing my job."
He added: "When I decide my future, the folks of Louisiana will be the first to know, not you. And I'll know that in time. Right now, I'm just doing my job."
The problem is, if he was negotiating for the job while working on the bill, that violates House rules. (Yes, I know what you're thinking: With rules that lax, you really have to try to break them.) At least one supporter believed everything was on the up and up:
"I think it's been well understood that Chairman Tauzin was considering outside options for a long time," [Majority Whip Roy] Blunt said. "I don't believe this was one of them at the time we were moving the bill."
Not everyone was so easily appeased, however, and even Republicans couldn't help but connect the dots:
One House Republican leader, Conference Chair Deborah Pryce of Ohio, warned the party might be damaged if Tauzin takes the job.
"I just think it might hurt some of the issues we've worked so hard on," Pryce said, offering rare public criticism of a fellow Republican.
Many Republicans are concerned about relentless Democratic attacks that the drug benefit is stingy for seniors while lucrative for the big drug makers who are represented by PhRMA. The GOP launched a public relations effort last year telling seniors that the changes benefit them.
"I think he will get an earful from his colleagues," Pryce said.
Public Citizen filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee, but after Tauzin stepped down as chair less than a month later the matter was not pursued. At the time he said it was for health reasons -- and his cancer was quite real -- but the letter was sent to Hastert only hours after Common Cause had publicly asked him to resign.
At least he told his constituents first like he said he would, right? If a statement released by PhRMA chairman Miles White counts, then yes. (Maybe he's still bitter at them for voting against his son.)
The White statement does not resolve Tauzin's ethical questions, either. Let's see if you have any better luck parsing the time line than I did:
“A year ago Alan Holmer and the PhRMA board began a process of transformation from a focus primarily on innovation to a focus on both innovation and patients’ access to affordable medicines. In looking searching for a new PhRMA president following Alan Holmer’s retirement announcement, we looked fosoughtr another strong leader to executecontinue this transformation. And that leader is Billy Tauzin,” said Chairman White.
I left their typos in because they're so darn cute, and because "executecontinue" has the right ring to it.
As for the timeline, Holmer announced his retirement after the bill was completed, but this transition period White talks about occurred while it was still in conference. Maybe Tauzin was talking with them while working on the bill and maybe he wasn't, but his denials in January sure look a whole lot less plausible now.
Regardless, now that he has the job I'm sure he'll have our best interests at heart. Just like when he wrote the prescription drug bill.