Congressional pharma foes square off over committee gig

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Fight! Fight! Two leading congressional critics of the pharma industry—Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI)—are at odds over a committee chairmanship.

Dingell chairs the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Waxman, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wants Dingell's job.

In response, Dingell yesterday announced his “whip team” for his effort to retain the coveted chairmanship. Among the three co-chairs was another pharma bête noir, Dingell's fellow Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, who chairs the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Dingell, an ardent defender of his home-state automotive industry, differs with Waxman on energy policy and other issues of concern to Detroit. But while the Michigan Democrat is viewed as somewhat less of a zealot than Waxman on healthcare policy, he has, together with Stupak, been an aggressive critic of pharmaceutical marketing practices, particularly with regard to consumer advertising.

Waxman, a top congressional consumer safety advocate and scourge of the Bush administration, has hit the FDA and drug companies on a host of issues, from safety to pricing to marketing. With his party poised to take control of the executive branch he oversees, Waxman is making a play to have more of a hand in shaping the policies it produces. It may be another case of “Damned if you do, damned if you don't” for the industry, but control of the committee could well determine the direction of the sweeping healthcare overhaul that the Democrats have promised voters.
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