Tauzin May Become Pharmaceutical Lobbyist
By H. JOSEF HEBERT
The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 4, 2004; 12:53 PM
WASHINGTON - Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana is stepping down as chairman of one of the most powerful committees in Congress, and is considering an offer to become the top lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry.
Tauzin, who has spent nearly 24 years in Congress, informed House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Tuesday that he would give up his chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, effective Feb. 16.
He does not plan to seek re-election in November and may leave Congress before then, said Ken Johnson, Tauzin's spokesman, adding that the Republican congressman has yet to decide what he will do next.
But Tauzin, 60, is widely expected to accept a job as head of the Washington lobbying operation of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, which represents big drug manufacturers such as Eli Lilly and Co. and Merck & Co.
The job offer has raised eyebrows since Tauzin's committee deals with critical legislation affecting the pharmaceutical industry. For example, Tauzin last year guided through his committee and the House a new Medicare law that prevents the government from negotiating lower prices from drug companies. Congress passed the legislation, which includes a prescription drug plan for the elderly, in December.
"It doesn't look good," said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause, a private political watchdog group.
But Johnson said Tauzin has agreed from here on to step aside from considering any committee matters involving the pharmaceutical lobby. "Absolutely no one in the leadership, not a single person, asked him to step down as chairman," said Johnson.
Tauzin said he was leaving the chairmanship to allow a smoother transition.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, on Tuesday met with Hastert to press his desire for the chairmanship. Barton, a former oil industry engineer and chairman of the Commerce energy and air quality sub committee, is viewed and the most likely successor to Tauzin.
"I am now actively seeking to be (Tauzin's) successor ... and I'm flattered to have his endorsement," Barton said in a statement Wednesday. Barton said he had "positive" meetings with Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas about the chairmanship.
Tauzin's likely departure from Congress has been rumored for months - ever since it became known that he had been offered the motion picture industry's top lobbying job, replacing Jack Valenti, 82, as president of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Last week, Tauzin said he was not interested in the motion picture industry job.
A colorful and loquacious lawmaker who can shift with ease from English to Cajun, Tauzin was first elected to the House in 1980 as a Democrat. He switched to the Republican Party in 1995, seven months after the GOP took control of the House.
Six years later he was given the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee and quickly showed a knack for working with both Republicans and Democrats. Tauzin prided himself as being a dealmaker with a down-home congeniality that belied his fierce competitiveness and political acumen.
During 24 years in Congress, Tauzin frequently played up his Cajun heritage, dubbing himself the Cajun ambassador to Congress. Back in Louisiana, some call him the "Swamp Fox" - a tribute to his political skills.
An avid deer hunter, Tauzin for years has operated a hunting club on Maryland's Eastern Shore and has been planning another one in the wilds of Texas. Some of Washington's most powerful lobbyists - many longtime Tauzin friends - have been his guest at the hunting retreats.
© 2004 The Associated Press