In the run-up to the 2010 elections, many Missouri bloggers tried to remind folks about Roy Blunt’s connection to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay, both convicted felons, as well as Blunt’s other rather extensive ties to lobbyists.
He trounced Robin Carnahan by a 54-41 margin.
Many also tried to point out his crucial role in the last-minute passing of the Medicare Part D entitlement—unfunded—which he acted out by helping the House Republican leadership cajole and caress as many reluctant Republicans as they could in order to get their votes, sometimes getting them to switch their votes. (FiredUp!Missouri has a nice summary of the sordid tale here.)
After all, as The Washington Post put it, the House leadership made sure their members knew the prescription drug benefit issue was important “to the party and the president.”
Yeah. And to the drug companies.
The pharmaceutical industry benefits from the legislation because most of the cost is picked up by taxpayers and the Medicare program is not allowed to negotiate prices with the drug companies. Not allowed by law. By a law that was pushed by Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt and enacted in 2003 by a majority of Republicans, including by Representative Jo Ann Emerson, a legislative neighbor of Blunt’s here in Missouri at the time.
As former Reagan domestic policy adviser and Bush I treasury official Bruce Bartlett said, “the Medicare drug benefit was a pure giveaway,” and it, “had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers; 100% of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit.” He added:
…anyone who voted for the drug benefit, especially someone who switched his vote to make its enactment possible, has zero credibility. People like Franks ought to have the decency to keep their mouths shut forever when it comes to blaming anyone else for increasing the national debt.
He finished with this:
It astonishes me that a party enacting anything like the drug benefit would have the chutzpah to view itself as fiscally responsible in any sense of the term. As far as I am concerned, any Republican who voted for the Medicare drug benefit has no right to criticize anything the Democrats have done in terms of adding to the national debt.
Well, Jo Ann Emerson, who represents the south central and southeast part of our state, was one of those Republicans who voted for the prescription drug bill to keep it alive in the House. And she was one of those who changed her vote, at the behest of Roy Blunt. And then she voted against it on final passage.
In any case, I’m not at this time going to knock Emerson for that vote-and-switch. That’s not the point I want to make.
I want to offer her some praise.
Perhaps out of some kind of legislative penance, she is trying to make amends. According to Vermont Public Radio Emerson is co-sponsoring a bill with Vermont Democrat Peter Welch that would,
allow the federal government to negotiate prices for prescription drugs that are bought under the Medicare Part D program.
Congressman Welch has essentially called Medicare Part D a “corrupt bargain,” and claims that his and Emerson’s bill would save taxpayers $156 billion over the next ten years by giving the government the power to negotiate a bulk discount for drugs.
The idea has failed before but Welch is optimistic about the bill’s chances this time:
I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at passing it this year because there is such a focus on the budget. The total focus on the new Republican majority is on cutting spending. This is tailor-made to help them achieve that goal. It’s $160 billion in savings. I think it’s a very compelling argument and it will allow those who claim they want to taxpayer money a chance to do so.
I’m not exactly sure how proud Rep. Emerson is of her co-sponsorship of this bill, since I could find nothing about it on her website, but here’s hoping she will enthusiastically work out her penance for her past legislative sins, at least one of them at the urging of Roy Blunt.
And perhaps this proposal will serve as a test for those Republicans in Congress who talk big about the debt and deficit but often shrink in the presence of traditional Republican constituents like the drug companies.