The new guard of congressional committee leadership presents a mixed-to-bleak picture for pharmaceutical industry interests.
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will command a comfortable majority, and has vowed to empower HHS to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies within her first 100 hours as speaker. It's a power the current administration does not want, but a vote, however symbolic, would put a pharma-bashing feather in the Democrats' cap going into a presidential election cycle.
Her No. 2, as House Majority Leader is likely to be Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, a pro-business centrist who has fought to curb his party's anti-corporate neo-populist wing. But Hoyer will have a fight on his hands, as Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha has vowed to contest the post. Murtha is a question mark. A single-issue candidate known for his strong military background and his recent opposition to the Iraq war, he has no record on healthcare issues but would likely be less receptive to industry concerns than Hoyer.
Two powerful incoming committee barons, John Dingell and Charlie Rangel, are considered reasonable enough. Rep. Dingell of Michigan will head the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Rep. Rangel of New York will head the House Ways and Means Committee.
Appointments that augur worse for the industry include those of California Rep. Pete Stark to head the House Ways & Means Subcommittee on Health and his fellow Golden Stater Rep. Henry Waxman to chair the Government Reform Committee. Waxman, the former chair of and ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health, could assume that chairmanship as well, though it seems likely he'll have his hands full with Government Reform and the virtually limitless investigatory power of the office. A top candidate to head the subcommittee, should Waxman cede leadership, is centrist New York Rep. Edolphus Towns.
Assuming Democratic control of the Senate, longtime pharma foe Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) would likely head the powerful committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which has FDA oversight. Montana's Max Baucus, who recently coauthored a series of letters to drug companies questioning their use of CME grants with his GOP Committee on Finance counterpart, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would head that committee, which governs Medicare and Medicaid spending. Wisconsin's Herb Kohl, a critic of DTC advertising, would lead the Committee on Aging -- another popular soapbox for industry critics. New York’s Hillary Clinton, a top contender for Senate Majority Leader should Nevada’s Harry Reid step down, has mellowed since she joined the Senate and is no longer the pharma-bashing firebrand that she was as First Lady.