The White House did major damage control with Dem Senators yesterday, after the blockbuster report from the NYT that the White House had cut a deal with drug makers to prevent further costs than the $80 billion they had committed to cutting. Deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina confirmed the deal with the NYT, but according to the paper "the Obama administration had never spelled out the details of the agreement."
The details of the agreement, at least as the White House is concerned, are that either it didn't happen, or it isn't binding. Given that Messina confirmed to the NYT "confirmed Mr. Tauzin’s account of the deal in an e-mail message on Wednesday night," it former seem unlikely, but Huffington Post is reporting that Dem Senators said there isn't a deal.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) asked two top White House aides, David Axelrod and deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina, if the administration had cut such a deal with PhRMA.
"He says there's no deal. I take him at his word," Brown told the Huffington Post.
The drug makers, according to the Times, had agreed to trim $80 billion in costs over ten years and the White House agreed not to go after deeper cuts by negotiating lower drug prices as part of comprehensive health care reform. The paper reported that Messina confirmed the deal on the record.
Brown said the article inspired his question. Both Messina and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) answered.
"Baucus said there was no deal and the White House said there was no deal," said Brown, referring to the reported deal to bar the government from negotiating for lower drug prices....
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that a White House representative told the caucus that "as far as he is concerned, there is no deal." Durbin made his comments on Bloomberg TV, but said that Axelrod, not Messina, had been the one to say there was no deal. Both Axelrod and Messina met with the Democratic caucus.
Democrats, said Durbin, were therefore free to craft legislation that allowed the government to negotiate for lower drug prices. "He told us there was no agreement, not in that regard," Durbin said of drug-price negotiations....
Even if a deal has been made by the White House and the drug makers, several members of Congress said they wouldn't feel bound to it no matter what Axelrod or Messina said.
There's a wrinkle, though, in a follow up story from the Times in which yet another White House spokesperson says, yes, there's a deal, but a deal with wilggle room:
But Dan Pfeiffer, a White House spokesman, reconfirmed the deal again Thursday night, suggesting a possible misunderstanding. The senators might have misunderstood reassurances that Congress could still press for drug price negotiations outside of the health care overhaul package, Mr. Pfeiffer said....
Some members of the Finance Committee said Thursday that they, too, were surprised by the explicitness of the promise to the drug makers negotiated by their chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and the White House.
"I think we could do more," said Senator Olympia J. Snowe, a Maine Republican involved in the panel’s health care talks. "It wasn’t enough."
"When I read about it, it gave me heartburn," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
Asked about his chances of undoing the deal, Mr. Waxman said, "I don’t do handicapping."
This isn't going to soothe any ruffled feathers on Finance, where the majority of members have been shut out of negotiations while Baucus carries on with Grassley and Enzi, two lost causes, because there were obviously talks between the drug industry, Baucus, and the White House, and some sort of deal was struck. Good for the rest of the Senate for saying that they won't be bound by it, and Pelosi and Waxman reinforcing that message.