Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
There were raw oysters at one buffet (in a tented patio outside the Sheraton Carlton) and a high quality of Brie on the other buffet in the adjoining Chandelier Room - not to mention ice buckets full of Billy Beer (a subtle Washington touch) and five bars serving concoctions considerably more potent than Geritol.
Only embassies, with their protocol and caviar, can generate a more confident air of affluence - but the hosts at Tuesday's reception were those folks who bring you Preparation H. Equanil, Mentholatum and a multitude of other brand-name medications. They were winning and dining the senators and representatives to whom upon occasion they turn when they need fast, fast, fast relief.
Strictly speaking, it was not these corporations but a professional organization, the Proprietary Association, which serves as an invisible protective shield for the self-medication industry, an enterprise that grosses over $3 billion per year, or approximately as much as is spent on public health programs. The Proprietary Association, with 88 members (down from 97 a few years ago) has an annual budget just under $2 million, and this was one occasion to use some of it freely.
"There won't be any news here," one attendee warned a reporter at the evening's beginning. "It's very lowkey; no lobbying; mostly top executives, no Washington reps, and they just want to say hello to their congressmen."
It was no doubt just to say hello that a pair of manufacturers (you could tell them because they wore blue badges) scanned the horizon above the buffet looking for . . . white badges, worn by the guests, including Capitol Hill guests. "Not much we can do until we get some white badges," one said to the other. Few white badges showed up last year.
Last year's annual reception coincided with the Hanafi Muslims' occupation of several Washington buildings, and all the invited guests had something to do elsewhere. "We just sat around drinking and talking to one another," recalled a veteran association member. This year's chief competition was the Panama Canal debate, and early in the evening there were no senators, but some senators' administrative assistants.
Then they began arriving, spearheaded by Sens. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), Charles Percy (R-Ill.) and swing-voter Howard Cannon (D-Nev.), who was decked out in a black tie and ruffled shirt for the embassy reception that was next on his itinerary.
"They were droning on about the canal when I left," he explained, "but they promised not to call a vote on anything while my back is turned."
Like many other legislators at the reception, Cannon seemed to be there primarily because one of the association's companies had a factory in his district - Sea and Ski.
"I use a whole lot of over-the-counter drugs," Cannon admitted, but declined to name any. Rep. Matthew J. Rinaldo (R-N.J.), on the other hand, is not a customer. "I can't recall buying one," he said. "I've been very healthy fortunately."
Also very healthy, to all appearances, were the 88 corporations that make up the association - bitter rivals in the marketplace who also realize that sometimes your competitor can be your best friend.
This is especially true now because the over-the-counter companies, according to an association official, are "quite opposed" to the Carter administration bill that would rewrite the current drug law. The bill calls for tough licensing measures on OTC products before being placed on the market and would require product studies that OTC firms consider unnecessary.
James D. Cope, the association president, a tall man with glasses and a red rose in his pin-striped suit, said the bill was drawn up with emphasis on the prescription drug industry. "Our concern," he said, "is that we're sort of the stepchild of the considerations here," and that the OTC companies would be stating their case at Senate hearings next month and "maybe starting tonight," meaning, no doubt, a hello here and there.