The half billion dollar surprise
Feb 1, 2013
Ohio's two U.S. senators both say they didn't realize they were voting to give half a billion dollars of tax money to a drug company when they voted to approve the "fiscal cliff" bill last month.
That's what U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, both told me in separate telephone conference calls to reporters on Wednesday. Both lawmakers make themselves regularly available to reporters when the Senate's in session.
The "fiscal cliff" bill averted a looming financial crisis by approving a set of tax cuts and tax hikes and putting off automatic budget cuts that otherwise would have kicked in.
But it also contained a provision that essentially provided $500,000,000 in Medicare money for a drug company, Amgen, by postponing price controls on a dialysis drug.
The New York Times reported on the provision in Jan. 19 newspaper article, as I noted in a previous blog post. The Times article noted that Amgen deploys 74 Washington lobbyists and recently had been fined $762 million for a fraudulent marketing scheme.
Brown said he didn't know about the provision when the bill was rushed through.
"If there had been more sunlight, I think it would have happened differently," he said.
Brown said the proper way to deal with the provision would have been to go through the normal process of considering bills in committee before taking them up on the floor, providing time for the measure to become known and to be discussed.
When that normal process isn't followed, "We don't get good legislation and we end up with things in bills that shouldn't be," he said.
He blamed Republicans for provoking a fiscal crisis and forcing a quick, last minute deal between leaders in Congress and the White House.
Portman said that after the Times article came out, he asked his staff about the matter and learned that a General Accounting Office report had suggested a delay because of a fear that medical service would be disrupted in rural areas.
"I don't know if it's bad policy or not, frankly," Portman said.
But he said the provision was an example of the problems of rushing through last minute budget bills.
"You end up with surprises," he said.
Portman said if Congress passes his End Government Shutdowns Act, it would not have to pass last-minute budget bills. His proposal, introduced last month, would continue government spending with an automatic continuing resolution if Congress failed to pass a budget bill on time. If the budget delay continued, spending would be cut in a series of 1 percent cuts, with the first kicking in after 120 days and the next cuts kicking in every 90 days, until a budget bill finally passed.