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Public Statements

Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. VITTER, Mr. President, I come to the Senate floor to talk about a priority of mine that has been the case since I first came to the Senate; that is, reimportation--changing Federal law appropriately to allow Americans to buy safe, cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.

We all know prescription drug prices are sky-high in the United States. They are sky-high by any metric, by any measure, but certainly in this down economy and certainly for folks like our seniors who are on a fixed income. They are particularly sky-high when you compare those drug prices to the prices of exactly the same drugs in other countries, including other Western industrialized countries, such as Canada immediately to our north.

For this reason, from the very beginning of my work in the Senate, I have laid out a number of solutions that I believe would make the situation a lot better, including generics reform, which I am working on in a bipartisan way with other Members of the Senate. One of those proposed solutions has been reimportation. Again, that would mean changing Federal law, as I think we absolutely need to do, to allow American seniors and all Americans to buy safe, cheaper prescription drugs from other countries such as Canada.

Let me emphasize that I am talking about exactly the same prescription drugs as we can buy here at much higher prices, and I am only talking about FDA-approved drugs. I am talking about drugs coming from the same sources, manufacturing sites, either in this country that go to Canada and other countries or sometimes from third-party countries, with the drugs coming to both Canada and the United States.

When I first came to the Senate, we were on the verge of passing that legislation. I worked in a bipartisan way with a large group of Senators, including Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who was one of the leaders of the issue at the time; John McCain on our Republican side; and many others, including Olympia Snowe, who were also involved in this issue.

One of those strong vocal supporters of reimportation was then-Senator Barack Obama. He took a very clear position as a U.S. Senator being strongly in support of reimportation. He voted for the full-fledged reimportation bill in 2007, and as he became a Presidential candidate, that strong, clear support continued during his Presidential campaign. Then-candidate Obama clearly stated once again his strong, crystal-clear support for reimportation. In fact, Presidential candidate Obama used very feisty language about reimportation. He claimed he would fight Big Pharma--the big pharmaceutical companies--stating, ``We'll take them on, hold them accountable for the prices they charge'' and ``[drug] companies are exploiting Americans by dramatically overcharging U.S. consumers.''

Unfortunately, after then-candidate Obama was elected President, some things changed, and the biggest change was the ObamaCare proposal and all of the backroom deals, bartering, and deal-making that led to its passage through Congress. I had concerns at the time. In fact, I spoke very clearly about my concerns here on the Senate floor that there were some backroom deals going on, essentially trading reimportation--the White House pledging to oppose reimportation, clearly against what the President ran on and how he voted here in the Senate, if Big Pharma would join the effort to pass ObamaCare into law.

More recently, in the last few months, e-mails and other evidence have surfaced that clearly confirm that is exactly what went on. In fact, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has had an investigation into this issue, and it has revealed and made very clear the closed-door negotiations about ObamaCare that essentially struck a deal between Big Pharma and the White House, the White House saying: You support ObamaCare, you help us pass it, you produce advertising dollars to do that, and we will deep-six--kill forever--reimportation.

As I said, this House investigation has laid out a clear pattern of e-mails and other communications that tell the story very clearly. PhRMA e-mails, for instance, say:

Rahm will make it clear that PhRMA needs a direct line of communication, separate and apart from any other coalition.

Of course, Rahm is then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

On June 10, 2009, PhRMA lobbyists met with White House officials, and coming out of that meeting, they said they had discussed the details ``and the expected financial gain from health reform.''

The same House investigation has revealed meetings between top administration officials and other special

interest groups, including meetings at the DSCC--Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee--to coordinate political operations. PhRMA lobbyists attended these meetings to learn about White House messaging and ``how our effort can be consistent with that.''

Then the final big deal was struck, and the big deal, as revealed clearly by this evidence and these e-mails, was very clear: PhRMA--the big pharmaceutical companies--would support ObamaCare not just in word but in deed, including putting up $70 million to help fund an advertising campaign in support of the passage of ObamaCare. That $70 million from the biggest pharmaceutical companies went to two 501(c)(4) groups--Healthy Economy Now and Americans for Stable Quality Care. These groups were formed specifically to advertise and promote the passage of ObamaCare. The former group was actually created after a meeting discussing the need for these efforts at the DSCC, a Democratic campaign arm. In addition, Big Pharma--the biggest pharmaceutical companies--offered $80 billion in payment reductions and other parts of health care financing in order to again secure their top priority: killing, in their mind, hopefully forever, reimportation.

In June President Obama's top White House health care adviser, Nancy-Ann DeParle, wrote to PhRMA that the Obama administration had ``made [the] decision, based on how constructive you guys have been, to oppose importation.'' Later, after that, PhRMA lobbyist e-mails confirm the deal and specifically highlight a conversation a PhRMA lobbyist had with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina. The PhRMA lobbyist wrote:

Confidential. [White House] is working on some very explicit language on importation to kill it in health care reform.

In August 2009 PhRMA's top lobbyist at the time, Billy Tauzin, made it crystal clear as well when he said:

We were assured ..... you will have a rock-solid deal.

The tragedy of all this is they apparently did have a rock-solid deal because if we look at Senate votes after that backroom deal which helped pass ObamaCare, there were multiple individual Senators who flipped their votes and made good on the White House rock-solid deal to kill reimportation--that opportunity for all Americans, particularly seniors, to be able to buy safe, cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and elsewhere.

Let's look at votes on the broad reimportation bill which was led by then-Senator Byron Dorgan. I was a cosponsor, and so were many other Senators who had been involved in this issue, such as John McCain, Olympia Snowe, and many others. In 2007 the Senate actually passed that measure 63 to 28, although after that it was essentially scuttled by a poison pill that was added to the bill. But the vote on the base measure was 63 to 28, with 47 Senate Democrats voting yes, including then-Senator Barack Obama.

Now let's flash-forward to 2009, after the ObamaCare backroom deal, and it is a whole different planet, a whole different landscape. The Senate defeated the same measure 51 to 48. There was a 60-vote threshold, with 38 Senate Democrats voting yes--a far smaller number--and 23 Senate Democrats switching their votes from 2007. It was exactly the same measure, but 23 Senate Democrats flip-flopped, switched their votes in light of the White House ObamaCare deal.

We can see a similar flip-flop with regard to votes on my Vitter amendment, which was a more narrowly tailored measure regarding reimportation. In 2009 the Senate passed that Vitter amendment 55 to 36, with, again, 45 Senate Democrats voting yes on that more focused and narrowly tailored reimportation amendment. But in 2011, after the deal, it was a completely different story. The Senate rejected the same amendment 45 to 55, with only 29 Senate Democrats voting yes--again, 14 Senate Democrats having switched their votes, doing a complete flip-flop from 2009.

So I believe the facts are in. Investigations, e-mails, and other crystal-clear evidence, including those votes and vote switches, make it very clear there was a backroom deal worth billions of dollars to Big Pharma and worth a lot politically to the Obama White House. That deal, as evidenced by these communications and quotes and e-mails, was very clear.

Big Pharma said: We will help you pass ObamaCare. We will give you $70 million in advertising money. We will help lower costs so you can brag that ObamaCare is, through some smoke and mirrors accounting, actually saving money when it is not. And, in exchange, you kill reimportation, which would lower prices on us and hurt our profit margin. And the White House said: Absolutely, we agree.

Senator Obama was full bore for reimportation. Candidate Obama campaigned on the issue and was very strong and vocal about it. President Obama cut the backroom deal and killed it. Those of us who are still fighting for lower prescription drug costs here in the Senate are, quite frankly, still reeling from the setback and still trying to deal with it. But I believe we ultimately will deal with it and will recover from this major setback when the American people fully realize what went on--the corrupt, I would say, backroom deal that was cut between the White House and Big Pharma, and how seniors and other Americans are paying the price.

ObamaCare passed, and prescription drug prices continue to be sky high. They continue to hurt tens of millions of Americans, particularly those on a fixed income such as seniors. And we continue to need a solution to that very real problem. That is why I will continue to fight. I will continue to fight for any measure that makes sense to lower prescription drug prices, generics reform, streamlining at FDA, and, yes, reimportation, to level the playing field, to get a world price on the drugs we use and not force a much higher price on Americans than virtually anyone else pays around the world.

America's seniors need that relief. I wish the Obama White House understood that and acted upon that. I wish President Obama would keep his word that he made as a Senator and as a Presidential candidate. But I will continue to keep my word on the issue and to build that support for strong, effective reimportation legislation.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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