Foul Play in the Senate

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The exterior view of Amgen Inc. offices is shown in Fremont, Calif., Tuesday, April 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

The exterior view of Amgen Inc. offices in Fremont, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

The 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.

“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.”
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.

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  • pclittle

    I’m hoping Max Baucus has the good sense not to run in 2014. I’ve voted for him as a “lesser evil”, but I won’t again.

  • Ottorage

    This should be criminal activity.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/SPYV4A2JCJ7OAAG5QKUDNNCTTM MarkB

    Welive, not in a democracy, but a capitalocracy. The best government money can buy.

  • Bill Clark

    This is hard to believe. But of course I know it is true.

  • Bill Clark

    Maybe this can be the flash point where Americans say “Enough”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pat.elgee.5 Pat Elgee

    Amgen is the same company that gave Ted Kennedy 5 million $ to extend the patent on certain drugs from 7 to 13 years. (2009)
    Our democracy sold to the highest bidder! This is illegal!
    “Accepting bribery, treason, and other high crimes against the state” are grounds for impeachment in the US Constitution.
    70% of the take from lobbyist go to republicans, but as you can see, democrats are on the take as well.
    The sad joke is that our sons and daughters give their lives to bring democracy to other countries when we have lost democracy here in the USA.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Todd-Shaw/100002590677744 Todd Shaw

    Our country has been up for sale to the highest bidders for a while now, and with Obama – he’s selling us to the Chinese, who do, in fact, want us completely disarmed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000212884146 Karl Bronn

    Surely this cannot be legal! It is stealing from the citizens of the United States to provide more corporate welfare! How do we stop this kind of behavior before the next election cycle. Recalls, prosecution, what?

  • missdebbe

    Don’t vote in incumbents in 2014. That’s the only way to change this. Send a message loud and clear…and do it each election until they get it…that they work on our behalf…not theirs. Geez…….

  • Reddoor2

    Kleptocracy sounds about right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pat.elgee.5 Pat Elgee

    Perhaps nobody should be re-elected, ever! Apparently everyone is dirty. Someone needs to post who is buying whom. A bright young American can no longer grow up to be President unless he sells his soul.
    Some say that JFK, would have been shot anyway, if not by Oswald, then by the war machinery group who needed to keep the war to keep going for profit. Good men and women are sacrificed so fat cats can make money. Instead of health care and education we get wars.
    Companies like Bain Capital can take over a company, let the company borrow from pension funds to pay millions to themselves, then they put the company in bankrupcy and the works lose their jobs, pensions, everything including the money they put into their pension out of their own pockets. Then fat cats like Romney do not have to pay back the pension fund, because he did not borrow it–it was his bonus, now the company that borrowed the workers’ pensions no longer exist. Then the &^%$#$ had the nerve to run for President of the United States of America!
    Really, in 6 years, we could have a complete turn over.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BingoSarahF Sarah Fuchs

    Vote against all incumbents!

  • Anonymous

    And to boot, the LBO bonus the CEO was paid came from the Takeover Company’s workers pension assets that are now offshore in a tax-free trust fund. They have the nerve to talk about gifts to the poor 47%. Vulture Capitalist of the Caymen Islands have no shame.

  • Al of Oak Harbor

    Nice thought, but Bill has been exposing this sort of graft for years and darn little has been done about it.

  • Michael

    Let’s keep following this story and see if it gets repealed!

  • Tom Tom

    As long there are lobbyists there is no democracy!!!!

  • A. D. Eleftheriou

    I heartily support Rep. Peter Welch’s campaign to rescind this attempt to allow Amgen to receive $500 million dollars in tax breaks by Senators McConnell, Baucus, and Hatch. Let’s vote these people out of congress and hold them accountable for these actions. Maybe they are not criminal, though they should be, but they certainly are unethical and not in the best interests of the American people. Let’s reinstate the rights of the majority.

  • JMChartier

    These are the same people who make their ‘economic conservative’ title completely absurd.
    That and the Ryan ‘budget’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pat.elgee.5 Pat Elgee

    Actually that started way back. Obama has drawn back in some ways, but not enough. He, too, has investments in China, per second debate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pat.elgee.5 Pat Elgee

    i though extreme capitalistic. Socialism would be when everyone worked for the state, capitalism is when private companies own everything. Extreme capitalism can refer to current situation where private internation corporations own the government.

  • PMAD/NYC

    Disheartening as usual. Here is McConnell who is also the fan of for-profit Humana Insurance located in his home state. They were given a Consultants’ Contract to go inside CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) back in the mid-90′s and what came out of that: The Medicare Advantage Program which was determined to spend more money on administrative costs than in the delivery of health services to those seniors who signed on. Your Medicare premium was given directly to them and people thought they were given a bargain. Now they are finding out that programs that are covered by Medicare, like colonoscopies, need about a $300 co-pay (Utah pal gave me this info.) I have been in Plan D since the onset – January 2006 and can give you chapter and verse on how the premiums and the co-pays and the Tiers have done nothing but go up and up, become more complicated and no one is in charge of curtailing this financial fraud. Been with 4 different carriers, Humana was one, and I saw premiums go up as much as 214+% in six months with Humana and no one was brought before Congress. We are also susceptible to financial fines if we don’t stay in the Plan D program! Now I see why: McConnell, Baucus and Hatch are the Power Brokers.

  • susanpub

    The people who represent the people of VT are just terrific!

  • susanpub

    How can we call it a democracy when the members of the House can’t even put forth a legitimate bill for a hearing? – When the party in power can simply say, “We aren’t going to even consider your bill; take a hike. SOL.”

  • susanpub

    Yeah, good luck with any impeachment or even calling out those who participate in this. It’s business as usual. The revolving door needs to be stopped. Why am I wasting my “breath?”

  • susanpub

    I’ve become so cynical that I don’t believe it will be changed.

  • candida

    I love you, Bill!! And am so grateful for all the reporting and interviews you have done over the many years. You give me just a little bit of faith in white males from Texas. For a true model of a public servant, YOU ARE IT!!

  • susanpub

    Good sense?!?

  • susanpub

    I already did that – a couple times around I voted for NO ONE who was an incumbent & – surprise – the good folks of Oklahoma still re-elected them all (well, at least this time Sullivan got defeated in the primary – who knows if the new guy is any better?).

  • susanpub

    And as long as there are not publicly funded elections.

  • Gary Price

    Read Wendell Potter’s book Deadly Spin. I also follow his blog postings at

    http://wendellpotter.com

    Here is a recent blog entry I found to be informative.

    http://wendellpotter.com/2013/01/differing-notions-of-affordability/

  • susanpub

    Anyone who doesn’t choose Medicare Part B when they enroll in Part A will be fined (for every year they decline to enroll in it) when/if they eventually do enroll in it AND have to pay a higher premium. I am eligible in about a year & barring some big change in my health, I do not need Part B at a cost of what is currently about $100/ month (which I DO NOT HAVE). What I would pay per year for that will almost certainly be way more than I would spend on doctors for that year paying my own bills – & by paying my own bills, I save the tax payers from having to pay for my minimal care. For that, I will be punished IF I enroll in Part B later. It’s just WRONG! And it really ****es me off!

  • susanpub

    If I lived in VT, I’d sure want to keep voting for Bernie Sanders… but I definitely get your point.

  • Greg Meegan

    The Amgen give-a-way is about the only way we see bipartisanship in the US Senate. When it comes to having their palms greased, Senators are neither blue nor red, they are an ugly shade of green!

  • Joan

    I have written my congressman (a republican) who will do nothing of course, my republican senator (Burr) is totally useless, but please people let us bombard them with letters and emails about this, even if it only makes them uncomfortable, they do this kind of thing and then tell us the medicare fund is broke – this is how it is getting broke!

  • DragonTat2

    Primary all of them.

  • Reddoor2

    “Extreme capitalism can refer to current situation where private international corporations own the government.”

    *Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.*
    *-Benito Mussolini
    *
    *“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”
    *
    *-Sinclair Lewis
    *

  • Anonymous

    There was an effort to identify who was being bought and by whom–it was the Disclose Act and was filibustered in senate by GOP.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps a better idea is to ask those running for office if they support a constitutional amendment reversing Citizens United SCOTUS rulin and instituting public financing of campaigns. Also wouldn’t hurt to determine if thise running belong to ALEC or support their style of legislating–basically template bills given to staffers and then proposed by the elected. Better idea than the overly simplistic idea that all incumbents are corrupt.

  • Grammy Gram

    These 3 Senators who put this Amgen into the “fiscal cliff” billl should be brought up on ethics chargers and a bill should be introduced so that no additives to any bill once it is set cannot be altered and Amgens lobbist and all lobbist representing anyone or company or idea should be limited to a certain number in the halls of our Senators. No wonder they can’t get any work done. This is just awful!

  • Tricia Galbraith

    This angers me regardless of whether it’s Democrats or Republicans taking part in the back-room deals. How do we make it stop?

  • Michelle

    Yeah, but we keep electing them, don’t we? How long have Hatch and Mitch McConnell been in office. Can we impeach THEM??

  • http://www.facebook.com/rina.vankleef.7 Rina VanKleef

    I say start the death penalty (and I really hate the death penalty) to anyone who is found guilty 100% of corruption like this.

  • SteveH

    Dear Mr. Moyers,

    I’ve been a long time viewer, to the extent that I’ve said “When Bill Moyers retires, I want his job” even though we are about the same age.

    Unfortunately, I feel you screwed up on the interview with Rep. . The topic was valid, but your introduction of the topic bordered on yellow journalism of a cub reporter. Sorry Bill, but your sensationalist approach was more suited to the National Enquirer.

    The congressman from Vermont seems, at least on the surface, to be a noble servant of the people. Many of his views on the cause of a lack of respect for Congress seem on target. His stated goal of saving taxpayer money is commendable. If I lived in his state I probably would have voted for him.

    However, the interview was a one sided diatribe with no illumination of fundamental issues.

    You did not ask, “Why did you vote for a hugely important bill that you apparently did not carefully read?” That might have led to an interesting discussion of the political process.

    You made a big stir about a virtually irrelevant provision being inserted at the last moment into a “must pass” bill. Is this technique a sudden revelation to you? I doubt that. I was tangentially involved with the Federal Privacy Act of 1974. One strong aspect of that act was that Americans deserved privacy, as opposed to citizen i.d. numbers used in other countries, and therefor social security numbers could only be used for social security purposes and not as any other kind of national identifier. That was the result of studies and debate and passed by Congress. It was nullified in a one or two sentence attachment to an unrelated bill in 1976. My point is that unrelated attachments to important bills have been common practice.

    A quote, probably wrongfully attributed originally to Otto von Bismark, was something along the lines that “Politics and sausage making are similar: don’t ask what goes into the product.”

    You did not ask how the current insert, favorable to Amgen, differs from other inserts.

    You also did not ask why some diametrically opposed members of Congress approved insertion of the clause. (See above comment related to sausage making.) You did make a case that the three received campaign contributions from Amgen. Is that enough to make virtual enemies vote together? I doubt it. It does not compute. You should have delved into why it does not compute.

    You did not explore the realm of kidney dialysis. Yes, Amgen is huge and with a very blemished reputation etc. and apparently a major player in kidney disease treatment. I don’t know much about that, but an important unexplored viewpoint is “How do kidney dialysis patients feel about the issue?” You did not introduce any viewpoint from that perspective.

    Sorry Bill, but you were a sensationalist on this issue. I’m 65 and will retire within five years and then I will be gunning for your job! Just wanted to give you fair warning.

  • stephanie

    What can I do as a citizen to prevent this?

  • stephanie

    I dont understand: “Among these 74 Amgen lobbyists are the former chief of staff to Senator Baucus and the former chief of staff to Senator Mc Connell. Two guys nurtured at pubic expense, paid as public servants disappear throu ===== and pesto return as money changers in the ===== Ques. If they were former i repeat former cheif of staffs how could they be paid and how could they have pulled this off?How were they even allowed in? stephaniefrancesburke@gmail.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.rittenour.543 David Rittenour

    I honestly don’t understand how Lobbying in any form isn’t illegal. Corporations should have to write and actually convince members of Congress to hear their views on matters just like everyone else.

    Obama did say he wanted to ban it once and for all, but I sincerely doubt that’ll ever happen at this point – there’s just too much money involved now. It would be nice though, if all those lobbyists, as well as the members of Congress (or any public servant really) got their assets frozen and seized, and their butts carted off to prison!

    THAT would be justice.

  • Dannsh

    Baucus office claims that Amgen was not the target in the legislation and that the legislation is in the best interest of Montanan’s.

  • nah

    Someone PLEASE Explain to me WHY lobbying is allowed, or even legal in this country!?!?! “A gov’t by, for, and of the people?!?!?” YEAH RIGHT!!

  • Crosshairball

    Bill Moyers is an Obama lovin Bilderberg…

    “The 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.”

    Huh?

    Not to discount some of the points further down in the article, but the first paragraph is WAY off and tells me exactly where this guy is coming from.

    Obama is not a U.S. President. He’s a constitutionally ineligible illegally appointed dictator shoed in to accelerate the dismantling of anything that was remaining of the U.S.A. And nature abhors a vacuum so be ready if you can for a Chinese invasion.

    Welcome to crony-communism.

  • Baroness

    I’m not surprised. Our country was founded by white slave owners who didn’t want to be slaves to the King. Corruption built our country and it would collapse without it. Why else would keep electing these douchebags into office? They’ll be in office till they step outside their marriage like Bill Clinton. People will scream for their blood then, but for now it’s business as usual.

  • RealFreedom13

    Prez Obama does not invest directly to China… his portfolios (state of Illinois & Federal) are controlled/invested by government, which he confirmed! So please don’t continue false info.

  • RealFreedom13

    Sorry SteveH, but you owe Bill an apology because he did not conduct the interview as was stated at the start of the article. The original piece was done by The New York Times. Mr. Moyers was “sharing” the info with his readers. Perhaps a new pair of glasses would make a good companion to that apology….

  • QueenAnne

    Where?, Oh, Where is the Attorney General – Bolder, when we so desperately, need him!
    May the dear sweet Lord help us rid them from our Congress, immediately!
    Sincerely,

  • http://www.facebook.com/wattknoxville Janet Watt

    Robert Bradway, Amgen’s CEO, should be brought up on criminal charges for trying to defraud the American taxpayer and those in congress who did this backdoor deal needs to be impeached for fraud also.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janeekraemer Jane Kraemer

    McConnell, Baucus and Hatch belong in jail. This gives us some idea as to how Mitch McConnell increased his net worth by over 20 million dollars in five years.

  • Tommie27

    Is it any wonder the Powers that be in Congress want to starve PBS TO DEATH ? Has anyone seen this Shell Game televised on any ” Major” News Network ? While this is an interesting story that reveals the Con Game that is Congress and the ELECTED players who participated in the Game. A HALF BILLION DOLLARS is a drop in the bucket compared to the swindle that was pulled off during the so-called imminent collapse of our entire economy, the “Bailout of the Banks and Wall Street” . That little incident was resolved in one weekend,behind closed doors of course. Has anyone been able to find out who that money was loaned to–to” save the Economy ” ?? The Automakers had enough Grit and Dignity to pay back the Taxpayers, ahead of schedule !!! When will the Bankers and Wall Street do this ? I sure as Hell wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen !!!!!

  • Tommie27

    Not to burst anyones bubble–but Democracy has been long gone !! You want Democracy, move to Denmark–Sweden–even Canada–I could go on with a fairly long list. The only ones who enjoy Democracy in this Country are the Rich !! To them it’s like anything else they want—it can be bought and sold, or in the case of “The Bailout”, simply transferred to them by the Treasury Department !! Helluva Racket if you can become a member—-GOOD LUCK WITH THAT !!!!!!

  • Trey Fulton. Omaha ne

    Lying, cheating, stealing assholes!!!

  • http://twitter.com/LawrenceMarsha Marsha Lawrence

    Representatives cheered as Rep. Mark Kirk made his way up the Capitol steps, returning from rehabilitation, then they cut reimbursement in the Medicare program to the physical, occupational and speech therapists whose skills made that walk up the steps possible. Now I know where that money went…

  • http://twitter.com/LawrenceMarsha Marsha Lawrence

    A correction to my post, that was Illinois Senator Mark Kirk. My apologies for the error.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tedicrawford Theodora Crawford

    Can we keep a running tab? Amgen not the first, nor the last, to sabotage our health care!

  • http://www.facebook.com/laure.olson Laure Olson

    I agree. And to see the poor fools going to war and thinking they are protecting the US and/or helping the average citizen of these places. Sad, so sad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laure.olson Laure Olson

    And ugly, pathetic examples of sub-human.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laure.olson Laure Olson

    You get A and B together for $109/mo. Do not think for one second that you will or can not suffer from some emergency or disease. That is foolish and delusional.

  • Laura King

    Let’s stop this. Campaign finance reform and eliminate lobbyists for good. It isn’t that complicated. Does require focus and commitment to see it through.

  • NotARedneck

    By definition, an economic conservative – US style – is a politician who claims he (or she) wants to cut that portion of government spending that might go to those people who anger bigots, racists and fundamentalist nitwits. Catering to these voting blocks almost assures election in much of the US.

  • Anonymous

    Nice thought, but do you want to move to Utah or Kentucky to help oust them?

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately it’s the Democratic/Republican way, esp. in the US.

    & most countries that come close to ‘our’ monied system.

  • Anonymous

    Way to keep on voting. You may feel too small to make a difference, but we shouldn’t let the side down. The few occasionally get the attention & benefit of having the rich. I still believe we’re not the most corrupt nation.