When he was seeking reelection in 2006, Joe Lieberman campaigned as a supporter of healthcare reform and expressed his support for “universal healthcare.” When the rubber hit the road, however, Lieberman emerged as a frontline warrior for the healthcare industry in its efforts to block reform. Yesterday, he not only noted his opposition to the very modest public option contained in the legislation that Majority Leader Harry Reid put forward, he also stated that he would cross the aisles to support a Republican filibuster. Should we be surprised? No. Lieberman has long been one of the industry’s favorite players on the hill, accepting more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the insurance industry and more than $600,000 from pharmaceuticals and related healthcare-products companies. But his ties run deeper than that. His wife Hadassah previously worked for two lobbying firms, Hill & Knowlton and APCO, handling matters for their healthcare and pharmaceuticals clients. Throughout the 2006 campaign, Lieberman pointedly refused to discuss the scope of his wife’s engagement for the healthcare industry or even the specific clients for whom she was working. But there seems to have been plenty of opportunity for synergy with Lieberman’s work in Congress. Joe Conason noted:
Among Hill & Knowlton’s clients when Mrs. Lieberman signed on with the firm last year was GlaxoSmithKline, the huge British-based drug company that makes vaccines along with many other drugs. As I noted in July, Sen. Lieberman introduced a bill in April 2005 (the month after his wife joined Hill & Knowlton) that would award billions of dollars in new “incentives” to companies like GlaxoSmithKline to persuade them to make more new vaccines. Under the legislation, known as Bioshield II, the cost to consumers and governments would be astronomical, but for Lieberman and his Republican cosponsors, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., the results would be worth every penny. Using the war on terror as their ideological backdrop, the pharma-friendly senators sought to win patent extensions on products that have nothing to do with preparations against terrorist attack or natural disaster.
As the New Haven Register, Lieberman’s hometown newspaper, noted in an editorial headlined “Lieberman Crafts Drug Company Perk,” that bill is even more generous to the pharmaceutical industry than a similar proposal by the Senate Republican leadership. “The government can offer incentives and guarantees for needed public health measures,” it said. “But it should not write a blank check, as these bills do, to the pharmaceutical industry that has such a large cost to the public with what may be an uncertain or dubious return.” What the editorial didn’t mention was that the Lieberman bill had also been written by Chuck Ludlam, a former pharmaceutical industry lobbyist who then worked on the Connecticut senator’s staff. From his office to his bedroom, Lieberman was totally surrounded by current and former employees of Big Pharma. Ludlam has since retired, and Mrs. Lieberman has quit her job too — but Lieberman still looks like a politician wholly owned by one of the nation’s most troublesome special interests. And while his campaign may not believe that the moralizing senator should be held accountable for those dubious relationships, the press and the public may think otherwise.