Backroom Obamacare deal probed by GOP

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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GOP legislators are alleging that White House officials cut a secret deal in June 2009 with the pharmaceutical industry to clinch passage of Obamacare.

“Based on email exchanges and other primary source material … top personnel in the White House were involved in negotiating and approving this deal,” reads a memo released by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Fred Upton.

The memo’s release suggests that Republican legislators will step up efforts to investigate the deal, which helped allow the administration to impose tight and intrusive regulation over one-seventh of the nation’s economy.

”The important question to answer is what did the White House get in return” for the deal, said the May 16 memo, which also described the White House’s refusal to cooperate with the House investigators.

The 2009 deal may have won the drug industry’s backing for the unpopular law in exchange for a Democratic promise to protect the drug companies’ revenues and profits from profit-sapping regulations, such as price caps on drugs.

The report marks another GOP effort to investigate White House controversies, and an unusual willingness to pick a fight with the wealthy and influential drug industry in a year when GOP presidential candidate is slamming the White House for “crony capitalism.” (RELATED: Full coverage of Obamacare)

GOP leaders say they believe health care competition can provide more benefits for Americans, at less cost, but they have yet to draft a bill that would supplant the Obamacare law.

In 2009, White House officials briefly described the deal as an agreement between the Senate Democrats and the industry’s trade group, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PhRMA).

“I am pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached between Senator Max Baucus and the nation’s pharmaceutical companies that will bring down health care costs and reduce the price of prescription drugs for millions of America’s seniors,” reads a June 20, 2009 statement from President Barack Obama.

But House investigators have discovered “that the White House, primarily through the Office of Health Reform Director Nancy Ann DeParle and [Jim] Messina, with involvement from Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, was actively engaged in these negotiations while the role of Congress was limited,” according to their memo.

Also, it continues, “Ms. DeParle all but confirmed that half of the legislative branch was shut out in an email to a PhRMA representative: ‘I think we should have included the House in the discussions, but maybe we never would have gotten anywhere if we had.’”

The White House refused to provide documents requested by the committee and instead, the memo reads, only sent over an uninformative list of meetings based on “calendar entries and other readily available information.”

“The calendar provided by the White House identifies a July 7, 2009, event as follows: “Meeting with PhRMA representatives” … this investigation, however, has revealed that this was not only a meeting between representatives of PhRMA and top White House aides; it was the critical meeting to solidify the deal.”

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