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Tauzin Quits Chairmanship, Will Retire From House

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 4, 2004; Page A09

W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (La.), one of the most powerful Republicans in the House, will not seek reelection when his 12th term expires at the end of this year and will vacate the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee effective Feb. 16.

Tauzin informed Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) yesterday evening.

Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin was offered a job leading a drug industry group.

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"Leaving will not be easy, but I believe this year is the right time for me and my family," Tauzin wrote in his resignation letter. "My recent time spent at Bethesda Naval Hospital has reminded me of how precious time and life are and how dear family and friends are."

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) is seen as likely to take over Tauzin's chairmanship.

Tauzin, 60, was hospitalized twice in recent months for health problems, including a bleeding ulcer.

A Democrat until he switched parties in 1995, Tauzin was widely expected to succeed Jack Valenti as president of the Motion Picture Association of America but turned down the job -- and its more than $1 million salary -- late last month.

Soon after, he received a larger offer to head the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade group that represents drug giants such as Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co., though no contract has been offered, sources said.

Tauzin was one of the principal authors of the Medicare prescription drug bill, which included several provisions expected to vastly expand the market for prescription drugs among the elderly. In addition to adding hundreds of billions of dollars for drug benefits, the law bars the federal government from directly bargaining down the price of drugs, a provision PhRMA pressed for.

He recused himself from participating in health care issues before his committee last week and is expected to take the PhRMA offer and leave the House before his term expires. Public Citizen, a public interest group, has called for an ethics investigation of Tauzin.

Last week, some of Tauzin's GOP colleagues said they looked unfavorably on what they said might appear to be a conflict of interest, but spokesman Ken Johnson said Tauzin's decision to retire was his alone.

"Absolutely no one in leadership -- not a single person -- asked him to step down as chairman," Johnson said.

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