09/13/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Gibbs Won't Say What White House Gave Drugmakers To Gain Their Support

What did the White House offer drugmakers to get their support for health care legislation?

NBC's Chuck Todd put the question directly to Robert Gibbs after the White House spokesman denied that a deal outlined in a memo obtained by the Huffington Post was accurate.

"Stepping back a minute on the PhRMA deal, are we to believe that PhRMA didn't get anything for their agreement on the $80 billion; that they did not get anything in return from the White House, any pledges, promises, winks, nods, whatever? Are we to believe nothing was promised to them?" he asked.

"Well, again, I'm simply -- was responding to what the question was about a memo that I think both sides..." Gibbs responded, before Todd cut him off.

"Forget the memo a minute," Todd said. "Can you answer that -- can you answer that question? Were they -- can you say for sure they were promised nothing in return?"

Gibbs ducked the question. "I can assure you that we've come to an agreement to seek some savings from the pharmaceutical industry as part of comprehensive health care," he said, declining to say what PhRMA was offered in return.

"And at what point are you going to release, then, the facts of the deal with them and with the hospitals and with a couple of these stakeholders that have come here and made these pledges and you guys have..." Todd followed up.

"I think some of this is going to be written into legislation that we'll hopefully see going through Congress relatively soon," said Gibbs.

"Should we -- you know, why not release it now? Why not say what it is?" Todd asked.

"Again, as I said yesterday, some of that agreement -- some of those agreements are up on the Finance Committee Web site," said Gibbs.

But there is, in fact, nothing on the Senate Finance Committee website about what the committee or what the White House offered PhRMA in exchange for its commitment to support reform and shave $80 billion in costs.

The memo:

Todd's question stands unanswered: "Are we to believe that PhRMA didn't get anything for their agreement on the $80 billion?"


Gibbs was asked about the PhRMA deal several other times in Thursday's press conference. From the transcript prepared by the White House:

Q The PhRMA deal. There's been some confusion I think about what exactly the White House has agreed to with Big Pharma, what they've not agreed to. Could you clarify what it is exactly that the White House signed off on, whether or not you feel that the Senate Finance Committee and Senator Baucus were up front with you guys about what he agreed to? And also, do you think that this was done, whatever deal this was, was this done in keeping with the transparency that then-candidate Obama promised?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, well, we had a little -- let me take the last part of that. I think the question a few days ago, something similar to this, which is we discussed bringing people to the table. We discussed making sure that stakeholders that are involved in health care are part of an agreement. Look, you can't -- you're not going to get health care legislation without involving the hospitals, without involving those that provide medications, without talking to groups that represent doctors or patients or seniors, nurses, what have you.

And we've talked a little bit about the PhRMA deal. You know, the Finance Committee and PhRMA agreed to $80 billion in cost savings, part of which goes to fill the doughnut hole for seniors as part of Medicare Part D, which I think we all know is at a certain point coverage for the purchase of those drugs stops until you basically reach a catastrophic level and the coverage kicks back in. Then some of the -- some of that additional savings would be used for health care.

Q But the question is what the White House agreed to, bypassing most members of Congress? Did you agree to oppose importation of drugs? Did you agree to oppose rebates in Medicare Part D? Did you oppose a repeal of noninterference and oppose the opening of Medicare Part B? That is what some lobbyists are saying the White House has agreed to.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, and I think the same article that denotes that has denials from both PhRMA and us on that.

Q But PhRMA said -- PhRMA said that the deal was $80 billion, that's it, no more, they can't give any more. Yet in Portsmouth, the President said that maybe you could get more.

MR. GIBBS: Well, maybe you could get more savings as a result of health care reform. I do not believe that the President meant we could take an $80 billion agreement and make it $95 billion. I've been fairly clear on that from here. I think as a result of the change in health care, you can see health care costs and drug costs driven down. That's not to say we were reopening it.

Q So just to be clear, you're denying that the --

MR. GIBBS: I'm denying the --

Q -- administration agreed to any of those things that I just listed?

MR. GIBBS: I am denying that the -- I'm reissuing the denial that I think is in the story that you're referring to, on our behalf and on PhRMA's behalf.

Yes, sir.


Q Robert, you mentioned that some of -- back to PhRMA -- you mentioned that some of it would be written into the Senate Finance legislation.

MR. GIBBS: Well, that's --

Q Did I understand that correctly?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the -- that's the panel; if you're talking about getting different cost savings into the bill on the Senate side, that's the committee of jurisdiction.

Q Pieces of the $80 billion agreement?

MR. GIBBS: Right.

Q Okay. But that agreement, the $80 billion, is not binding on Congress in any way, is it?

MR. GIBBS: Is it not binding on?

Q Congress.

MR. GIBBS: All of Congress?

Q All of Congress.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I guess that depends to some degree on what ultimately comes out of the Senate and what's agreed to in a conference committee, but I think that's getting -- that's projecting a tad ahead of ourselves.

Q Well, is it binding on the Senate Finance Committee?

MR. GIBBS: It's the agreement that they entered into. Yes, sir.