Today's NY Times front page reconfirmed the news that President Obama has made a back-room deal with the pharmaceutical industry to block any Congressional health care legislation that would allow Medicare or most other parts of the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry or would allow importation of cheaper drugs from Canada.
This is extraordinarily disturbing for several reasons:
Commenting on the backroom deal with Tauzin and Big Pharma, the Deputy White House Chief of Staff told the NY Times, "The President encourages this approach. He wanted to bring all the parties to the table to discuss health insurance reform." But coming to the table is one thing. Buying the whole table is another.
This is a very bad sign that any health care reform bill which eventually passes both houses of Congress and is signed by President Obama will bring meaningful change that would make affordable health care available to all Americans and will "bend the arc" of escalating health care costs. As I cautioned in my recent Huffpo article entitled "ObamaCare," it's starting to look more and more as though "health care reform" will end up being mostly a federal bailout of the insurance and drug industries.
Here's my question: Where is the outrage against these kind of backroom deals from progressive organizations like Move On, Health Care for America Now, the AFL-CIO, the SEIU, and Families USA, who decided that the most "pragmatic" approach to health care reform was to take single payer off the table and back an incremental approach? Where's the pushback from the Congressional Progressive Caucus telling Obama that they won't vote for a bill which bans the government from negotiating lower drug prices?
Even taking the "pragmatic" incremental strategy at face value, there needs to be a two-way street between these progressive organizations and the Obama administration. Their role can't be just to try to mobilize public support for whatever health reform bill comes out of Congress, no matter how compromised and flawed. It must also be to set minimum standards for throwing their political support behind any such bill and to demand that Obama and Congress listen to the grassroots as well as to corporate lobbyists.
Obama's backroom deal with Big Pharma should fail the smell test with these organizations. They should be mobilizing their grassroots networks, not only to support the idea of health care reform, but to block backroom deals with special interests that undermine real reform. How about a petition campaign from Move On and HCAN demanding Obama renounce his deal with Big Pharma? How about a statement from the House Progressive Caucus that they won't vote for a Bill which includes a ban on the government negotiating drug prices?
Progressive organizations should be playing an inside/outside game with the Obama administration -- mobilizing the grassroots to support the administration when it 's bringing positive change and challenging the president to do better when he fails to stand up to the power of big money. They can't be so enamored with being offered a small seat at the White House table that they give up their political independence and their ability to think critically.
Progressives were outraged when the Bush administration and a Republican Congress banned Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices. Maybe it's time for a little bit of outrage when the Obama administration does the same.