DTC foe Dingell pushed to head health subcommittee

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Supporters of Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), arguably the leading critic of consumer advertising in Congress, are pushing him to head a powerful health subcommittee, The Hill has reported.

The post, heading the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, would be a consolation prize following the loss of a plumb committee assignment, but friends told the paper it would allow him to pursue his “passion” for healthcare reform.

“Remember, John Dingell was in the chair in 1965 holding the gavel when Medicare passed through the House,” Jim Davidson, executive director of the Advertising Coalition, told MM&M. “It's been a very important issue for him, as it was for his father, who held that seat during the Truman administration.” Truman, like Clinton after him, tried and failed to pass universal healthcare legislation, and Dingell has introduced a universal healthcare bill every year since he entered Congress in 1955.

First he'd have to unseat Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who currently chairs the subcommittee, but given Dingell's seniority and expertise, that doesn't seem like it would be much of a fight.

Last week, House Democrats ousted Dingell from his chairmanship of the Committee on Energy and Commerce in favor of another industry watchdog, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), by a vote of 137-122. Dingell had held the committee chairmanship for 28 years, and his ouster was an unusual break with the practice of awarding chairmanships based on seniority. But while the congressmen agree on the evils of DTC advertising, they're a world apart on energy and environmental issues, with Dingell often taking siding with his home state auto industry, and the vote was seen as a repudiation of his go-slow stance on climate change.

Under Dingell's direction, the Committee on Energy and Commerce has launched investigations into DTC, including hearings on campaigns for Lipitor and Vytorin, along with a host of other pharmaceutical promotion practices in recent years. He has also demanded – so far, with little success – that companies commit themselves to a two-year moratorium on consumer ads for new drugs.

Davidson acknowledged “residual concern” from Dingell and others in Congress about consumer advertising, but noted that a provision in the FDA Amendments Act establishes a process for hearings on ads and that PhRMA will be unveiling new consumer advertising guidelines in the next couple weeks.

“In my opinion, Congress cannot be an administrative agency [on advertising],” said Davidson. “They need to turn that responsibility over to the FDA.” 
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