Big Pharma’s money talks in the U.S. Senate

The pharmaceutical industry’s political donations paid-off big time yesterday, according to the great data-crunchers at Berkeley-based MAPLight.org.

The U.S. Senate voted 51-48 yesterday on an health-care reform bill amendment – offered by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND – which would’ve relaxed restrictions on drug imports from Canada and other developed nations, paving the way for the U.S. market’s access to cheaper prescription drugs. It failed, because under rules governing consideration of the overall reform bill the proposal required 60 votes.

The parties may differ on health-care reform, but this amendment’s defeat was startlingly bipartisan: 30 Democrats joined 17 Republicans and one independent to kill it.

The pharmaceutical industry opposed this amendment, claiming risks of counterfeit medicines and sub-standard regulations; Dorgan argued in the amendment’s text that “a prescription drug is neither safe nor effective to an individual who cannot afford it.” The amendment’s backers estimated it would save American consumers $100 billion over 10 years.

And, don’t’cha know, Senate Democrats who voted against this amendment had received an average of $73,729 from drug companies over the past six years – 70 percent more than Democrats who voted for the amendment, MAPLight.org found. Among all Senators, those voting to block imports received an average of $85,812 each from drug companies over the past six years, which is 66 percent more than those who voted in favor of imports.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was among the amendment’s 20 cosponsors; both she and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., voted in favor of it.

MAPLight.org’s averages for yesterday’s vote exclude U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who didn’t vote, and recently elected or appointed senators Roland Burris, D-Ill.; Paul Kirk, D-Mass.; Herbert Kohl, D-Wisc.; and George LeMieux, R-Fla., for whom campaign finance records are not yet available.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.