Sen. Byron Dorgan is unhappy that his amendment to the Senate health care bill on reimportation, which at one point appeared to have the votes for passage, failed after a late intervention from the Democratic leadership to preserve a deal with the drug industry. But Dorgan goes much further in pointing fingers specifically at the Obama Administration for the defeat, even intimating that the White House wrote a letter from the FDA about safety without the Commissioner’s knowledge.
Last week, he said he heard rumors that the FDA was going to send a letter objecting to drug importation on safety grounds, which he has said is a bogus reason. He said he called FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, who said she knew nothing about such a letter.
He said his timeline shows that a letter, signed by Hamburg questioning the safety of drug imports, was sent 24 hours later to a few senators who opposed importation. That piece of paper became a rallying cry for other senators who voted down Dorgan’s amendment.
“I think the letter was prompted, probably drafted somewhere else,” like “the White House” Dorgan said.
That’s a pretty inflammatory charge. According to the story, the White House has not responded to it. They haven’t yet responded to my query, either.
As David Sirota notes, the FDA is an agency that’s supposed to be insulated from politics, and yet this looks extremely political, if Dorgan’s charge is accurate. Either Hamburg was lying when she said she didn’t know what Dorgan was talking about, or she was cut out of the drafting of the letter entirely. If there’s a better explanation, I’d like to hear it.
If this is true, it’s a genuine scandal. It’s one thing for the White House to oppose a measure, make arguments against a measure on any grounds it wants. But if the White House political staff played ventriloquist for a science/safety declaration from the FDA, that’s a huge problem.
We went through the Bush years – the years of Karl Rove politicizing science-based agencies and their declarations. In fact, this happened at the FDA and specifically on the drug importation issue, as Judd Legum and I reported in a cover story for The Nation. This was exactly the kind of thing Democrats and Obama railed on.
Now, we may have evidence that in order to protect drug industry profits, the Obama White House did exactly the same thing.
I’m awaiting an explanation here.