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Moyers and Winship write: "Congress slipped an eleventh hour loophole into the New Year's Eve deal that kept the government from going over the fiscal cliff. When the sun rose in the morning, there it was, a richly embroidered loophole for Amgen that will cost taxpayers a cool half a billion dollars."

Portrait, Bill Moyers. (photo: PBS)
Portrait, Bill Moyers. (photo: PBS)

Foul Play in the Senate

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Moyers & Company

26 January 13


he inauguration of a president is one of those spectacles of democracy that can make us remember we're part of something big and enduring. So for a few hours this past Monday the pomp and circumstance inspired us to think that government of, by, and for the people really is just that, despite the predatory threats that stalk it.

But the mood didn't last. Every now and then, as the cameras panned upward, the Capitol dome towering over the ceremony was a reminder of something the good feeling of the moment couldn't erase. It's the journalist's curse to have a good time spoiled by the reality beyond the pageantry. Just a couple of days before the inaugural festivities, The New York Times published some superb investigative reporting by the team of Eric Lipton and Kevin Sack, and their revelations were hard to forget, even at a time of celebration.

The story told us of a pharmaceutical giant called Amgen and three senators so close to it they might be entries on its balance sheet: Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and that powerful committee's ranking Republican, Orrin Hatch. A trio of perpetrators who treat the United States Treasury as if it were a cash-and-carry annex of corporate America.

The Times story described how Amgen got a huge hidden gift from unnamed members of Congress and their staffers. They slipped an eleventh hour loophole into the New Year's Eve deal that kept the government from going over the fiscal cliff. When the sun rose in the morning, there it was, a richly embroidered loophole for Amgen that will cost taxpayers a cool half a billion dollars.

Amgen is the world's largest biotechnology firm, a drug maker that sells a variety of medications. The little clause secretly sneaked into the fiscal cliff bill gives the company two more years of relief from Medicare cost controls for certain drugs used by patients who are on kidney dialysis, including a pill called Sensipar, manufactured by Amgen.

The provision didn't mention Amgen by name, but according to reporters Lipton and Sack, the news that it had been tucked into the fiscal cliff deal "was so welcome, that the company's chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts." Tipping them off, it would seem, to a jackpot in the making.

Amgen has 74 lobbyists on its team in Washington and lobbied hard for that loophole, currying favor with friends at the White House and on Capitol Hill. The Times reporters traced its "deep financial and political ties" to Baucus, McConnell and Hatch, "who hold heavy sway over Medicare payment policy."

All three have received hefty campaign donations from the company whose bottom line mysteriously just got padded at taxpayer expense. Since 2007, Amgen employees and its political action committee have contributed nearly $68,000 to Senator Baucus, $73,000 to Senator McConnell's campaigns, and $59,000 to Senator Hatch.

And lo and behold, among those 74 Amgen lobbyists are the former chief of staff to Senator Baucus and the former chief of staff to Senator McConnell. You get the picture: Two guys nurtured at public expense, paid as public servants, disappear through the gold-plated revolving door of Congress and presto, return as money changers in the temple of crony capitalism.

Inside to welcome them is a current top aide to Senator Hatch, one who helped weave this lucrative loophole. He used to work as a health policy analyst for - you guessed it - Amgen.

So the trail winds deeper into the sordid swamp beneath that great Capitol dome, a sinkhole where shame has all but disappeared. As reporters Lipton and Sack remind us, just weeks before this backroom betrayal of the public interest by elected officials and the mercenaries they have mentored, Amgen pleaded guilty to fraud. Look it up: fraud means trickery, cheating and duplicity. Amgen agreed to pay $762 million in criminal and civil penalties; the company had been caught illegally marketing another one of its drugs.

The fact that their puppet master had been the subject of fines and a massive federal investigation mattered not to its servile pawns in the Senate, where pomp and circumstance are but masks for the brute power of money.

Peter Welch, Vermont's Democratic congressman, has just introduced bipartisan legislation to repeal the half billion-dollar giveaway to Amgen [see the video clip below]. Its co-sponsors include Republican Richard Hanna of New York and Democrats Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Bruce Braley of Iowa.

The Amgen deal "confirms the American public's worst suspicions of how Congress operates," Representative Welch told us this week. "As the nation's economy teetered on the edge of a Congressional-created fiscal cliff, lobbyists for a private, for-profit company seized an opportunity to feed at the public trough. It's no wonder cockroaches and root canals are more popular than Congress."

In his inaugural address, Barack Obama said the commitments we make to each other through Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security don't make us a nation of takers. But the actions of Amgen and its cronies under the dome on Capitol Hill show who the real takers are - not those who look to government for support in old age and hard times but the ones at the top whose avarice and lust for profit compel them to take as much as they can from that government at the expense of everyone else. your social media marketing partner


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+140 # treadlightly 2013-01-26 16:08
I love you Bill Moyers, have for years. Your words are like a very sharp velvet blade that cuts to the core every time.
What can we do to disrupt this ongoing pillaging of the treasury and personal finances?
We vote new people in with the hope that they can somehow slay the dragon, only to discover the scales they had hidden from us during the campaign.
What haven't we tried? You Bill, you said it in this article "They have lost all shame". I'm sure you mean lost all sense of responsibility for the people who put their trust in them.
"just weeks before this backroom betrayal of the public interest by elected officials and the mercenaries they have mentored"
Yes, that is the language you use so well.
-168 # Carrol 2013-01-26 16:52
The phrase "cost taxpayers a cool half a billion dollars." is nonsense. It costs the government money. Taxation is quite separate, & no taxpayer would get a refund if this particular expenditure was cancelled.

This sort of language is more liberal mumbo-jumbo, trying to delude themselves into thinking the Democratic Party is a friend of the people rather than the major defender of a destructive capitalism.

We need a mass movement of resistance to the growing repressive power ot capitalism and the state, a repressive power of which Obama is the chief agent now. Forget niggling little irrelevancies such as Moyers is fretting about here.
+77 # wantrealdemocracy 2013-01-26 18:27
This didn't cost the taxpayers "a cool half a billion dollars" it was double that!! The money the corrupt Senators gave their friends was our money that we already paid. Now we get to pay it again. All the while Congress is shedding crocodile tears over the deficit and they will, with a smile. say we need to share the hardship as they slash our domestic programs to keep the profits going to the military industrial complex and keep giving the bastards on Wall St TRILLIONS of dollars. Past time for the American people to say, "Stop the bull sheet! We want our tax funds to be used for the needs of the people or we are going to tear down the rotten government and all you creeps in office can share the pain of unemployement!"
+93 # genierae 2013-01-26 18:28
Government IS the people Carrol, and the government's money is the people's money. And "liberal mumbo-jumbo", otherwise known as truth, is the only thing that will save us. You should try it sometime.

We do need a mass movement, "of the people, by the people, and for the people", so we can take our country back from the diabolical right-wing fanatics that have taken it hostage.
+8 # Dunn 2013-01-26 18:58
Stick to FOX news,hey... you are too "under educated" to be here on RSN, twisting facts and publicly displaying your ignorance. Leave. Buh-bye...shoo. ..g'wan back to the low IQ setting of the network that gets chumps like you to pimp their propaganda. See ya! Wouldn't wanna be ya!
+24 # Smiley 2013-01-26 19:34
Stop Trying to kill discussion with personal attacks. Meanness adds nothing good.
+13 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2013-01-26 19:57
Don't forget to visit you "brother Skeeter" who is sitting on his front porch with a shot gun waiting to protect himself from Obama's black army. Fox news, home of the "chicken hawks." Earl Nightengale once made the comment, "are you pursuing the good and the beautiful?" Someone who watches Fox News and listens to Fox News will be the first to say, "get out the net. What good? What is beautiful?" Or, as the enlightened say, "never wrestle with a pig. You will get dirty and besides, the pig loves it."
+38 # X Dane 2013-01-26 19:41
You are unbelievable. You have watched too much Limbaugh. You sound EXACTLY like him.
I don't even want to try to make you understand how DEAD WRONG you are, for that would be a lost cause.
+9 # giraffee2012 2013-01-27 00:54
Quoting Carrol:
The phrase "cost taxpayers a cool half a billion dollars." is nonsense. It costs the government money. Taxation is quite separate, & no taxpayer would get a refund if this particular expenditure was cancelled.

This sort of language is more liberal mumbo-jumbo, trying to delude themselves into thinking the Democratic Party is a friend of the people rather than the major defender of a destructive capitalism.

"Except you have ZERO evidence to show for that. Don't worry. We'll take your word for it. I'm sure you know your stuff. You just have to wait for the facts to catch up to you."
+71 # candida 2013-01-26 17:28
I love you ,too, Bill!! And am so grateful for all the reporting and interviews you have done. For a true model of a public servant, YOU ARE IT!!
+39 # X Dane 2013-01-26 20:08
I agree with you candida, for so many years Bill has informed us on a great many subjects, that we would not otherwise know. I wonder if dems can not use this against McConnell when the debt ceiling is coming up again?

These scummy senators make you want to throw up. I sure hope Ashley Judd will run against him.....and BEAT HIM in 2014.
Many people think she may do that.
She is very socially involved, as are a number of others in the entertainment world.
I also hope Peter Welch will be successful
+41 # DPM 2013-01-26 17:33
Let's hope Congressman Welch is successful, but I won't hold my breathe. Most of our elected officials and virtually all of the top people in the business "community" need to be purged from our society.
+6 # jack406 2013-01-26 17:35
What is the loophole? I believe it happened. Too bad you couldn't tell us what it was.
+30 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2013-01-26 19:06
During his term, former president Reagan put 700 bankers in jail or prison (yes, I voted for Obama) I would love to read the results of an investigative report why Obama has not put one in jail? Second term immunity from banker corruption, fraud could be a starting point. At the height of the banking scandal, few years ago, Obama, "they did nothing illegal."
+28 # ruttaro 2013-01-26 20:35
This is what to big to fail really means: too big too jail. Campaign contributions, lobbying, hiring of industry insiders to serve on Congressional committees, staffers heading for lucrative jobs in the industries they helped at the public's expense, this is NOT government "for the people". What the lobbyists pay out is all small change comapred to what the plunderers reap.
Just for arguments sake, let's assume that everyone of our Congressional representatives really want to serve the people (I know, just go with here). However, as soon as they get to Washington they are immediately confronted with the daunting challenge of raising money for the next election. The "electoral" marketplace is an expensive one and our reps know that average voters don't have the cash and they don't have the time to go to the people. So who is standing there with the check-book and the golden grin behind the snicker patting our Congressman on the back? Money talks and is now considered free speech. As Moyers said earlier this year "if money is speech, no money is no speech".
How do we rescue our government and bring back government for the people? A Constitutional Amendment that makes all public campaigns publicly funded and any acceptance of cash by any lobbyist or entity is a felony. We have to start with state legislatures and elect people in 2/3rds of the states who will vote for ths amendment.
+18 # Skyelav 2013-01-26 19:53
Not to mention they made only a half -a**ed effort to rewrite and get rid of the filabuster. Old saying. Nothing changes if nothing changes and the kidney people will once again be paying too much
+14 # 2013-01-26 20:01
Hang 'em high!
+23 # ghostperson 2013-01-26 20:05
Once again confirmation of pay to play government.

We pay, Big Business and the rest of the taxpayers who are still on the ropes from the Great Debacle of 2008 and the subsequent Libor scandal.

Had enough yet? I have.
+4 # Hirspray 2013-01-26 20:40
So what's your solution?
+28 # angelfish 2013-01-26 21:02
In the report I first read on this subject, it said that "Senate staffers" had slipped in this little Tid-Bit for Amgen. HOW are "Senate staffers" able to insert ANYTHING with out full disclosure and discussion by those who wrote the Bill? Seems to me things REALLY need to change before ANYTHING gets better.
+3 # Billsy 2013-01-27 14:01
Even if this transgression is of too little importance to impress one lonely commenter, the point is that our representatives have become corrupt from dependence upon campaign contributions.
We can and should work to elect only those politicians who demonstrate good faith in challenging campaign financing and laws. It won't be easy but nothing worth doing is ever easy. I have become weary of the petty back-biting and negativity posted in these comment sections. If it doesn't cease, I, like many others I suspect will cease to bother reading them. If you have nothing constructive to say, please remain silent or risk poisoning the well.
+9 # Helen 2013-01-27 20:04
I wish there were a way to impeach McConnell, Baucus and Hatch. At the very least, we can ALL write our own Representative asking that he or she back Peter Welch's efforts to delete the Amgen giveaway. I just wrote to mine.
+7 # Kootenay Coyote 2013-01-28 09:52
AmGen: another Corporate Welfare Bum.
-5 # FDRva 2013-01-29 17:51
Barry Obama is about as progressive as Boehner--just closer to Wall Street.

And he is almost surely still threatening the Clintons.

Was that 60 Minutes piece a joint interview --or a hostage-taking?
-5 # FDRva 2013-01-29 18:12
Consider the possibility that President Obama--does not give a hoot about this or any other issue--that is not Wall Street-approved .

He knows which side his bread is buttered on.

As to the pre-election, lesser-of-two-e vils argument on the Presidents behalf--at least you got the evil part right.

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