On the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to take on the drug industry by allowing Americans to import cheaper prescription medicine. "We'll tell the pharmaceutical companies 'thanks, but no, thanks' for the overpriced drugs -- drugs that cost twice as much here as they do in Europe and Canada," he said back then.
On Tuesday, the matter came to the Senate floor -- and President Obama forgot the "no, thanks" part. Siding with the pharmaceutical lobby, the administration successfully fought against the very idea Obama had championed.
"It's got to be a little awkward," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).
It's even more awkward for millions of Americans who are forced to pay up to 10 times the prices Canadians and Europeans pay for identical medication, often produced in the same facilities by the same manufacturers, simply because the U.S. government refuses to rein in drug prices.
Those favoring cheaper prescriptions amassed an impressive ideological coalition, from socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to conservative Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). But they were no match for industry-friendly senators backed by the administration, who on Tuesday night easily voted down "reimportation," as it is called.
No surprise here: Lawmakers, and the White House, are addicted to drug money. The industry has pumped upwards of $130 million into federal elections over the past decade and is now among the top 10 donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. At the same time, the White House needed the industry to spend its millions of dollars in advertising money on support of the health-care legislation, not against it.
The drug-money addiction could explain why the administration struck a sweetheart deal with the industry, which offered to give up $80 billion in revenue in exchange for an understanding that the government would not push for deeper concessions. The White House was determined not to go back on the deal -- even though the industry had demonstrated bad faith by raising prescription prices nearly 10 percent this year. So when Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) brought his reimportation proposal to the floor, the administration pushed back with a letter from Food and Drug Administration chief Margaret Hamburg warning of "significant safety concerns."