Health Care Lobbyists' Rise to Power

Dawn breaks over the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 6, 2009. At the urging of President Obama, the Senate resumed debate on the economic stimulus package. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The pharmaceutical industry is putting its army of lobbyists into overdrive as Congress works to complete a health care reform bill.

There are 3,000 registered health care lobbyists on Capitol Hill -- that's six for every single member of Congress. And in many cases, those lobbyists are former members of Congress who shaped laws that benefitted the industry they joined.

The so-called "revolving door" is perfectly legal, CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports. Yet it leads critics to ask whether some who are supposed to be watching out for taxpayers have other interests.

In 2003, the pharmaceutical industry got a multi-billion dollar windfall with Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage for seniors. Congressman Billy Tauzin, and Senators John Breaux and Don Nickles each held key roles in passing or shaping Part D. All three then left their government jobs and became lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry.

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Tauzin reportedly earns a $2 million salary to head up the biggest pharmaceutical lobby group: PhRMA. Breaux and Nickles have started lobby firms that are each pulling in six figures from the drug industry.

"There was sort of a mass exodus of members of Congress and staffers to go work for either pharma or pharmacutical companies," said Olga Pierce of ProPublica.

The non-profit journalism group ProPublicahas found 27 former members of Congress and staffers who were major players in Part D and are now working for the pharmaceutical industry on health care reform. The revolving door is dizzying.

Lobbyist John McManus worked for Eli Lilly, became a House staffer where he was "chief staff architect" of Medicare Part D. Now he lobbies for the drug industry.

Lobbyist Michelle Easton worked on Part D in the Senate, became a vice president of PhRMA, went back to the Senate as a staffer, and now lobbies for PhRMA.

One Congressional staffer who made the leap to the pharmaceutical industry after Medicare Part D told CBS News: "every time a major bill passes, there is an exodus of Hill staffers... People are willing to pay a premium for (their) knowledge ... As long as ... ethics laws and rules are followed, why shouldn't they have that opportunity?"

It's worked out nicely for the pharmaceutical industry. It's spent at least $18 million lobbying Congress on health care reform and, so far, has fought off two proposals that would cost it billions: allowing cheaper drugs to be imported from Canada, and lowering drug prices for some Medicare patients.

No one we mentioned in this story would agree to an interview. In 2007, Tauzin told Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes" that he joined PhRMA after drugs cured him of cancer - not because he'd worked on Medicare Part D.

Kroft:A short time later, you go to work for the drug lobby at a salary of $2 million.

Mr. Tauzin: There's nothing I could have done in my life after leaving Congress that wouldn't have had -- I didn't have some impact on in 25 years in Congress. If that looks bad to you, have at it. That's the truth.

A so-called "cooling off period" hasn't slowed the revolving door: ex-members of Congress and top staffers are required to sit out for one to two years before lobbying former colleagues. Some have gotten around that by entering the lobby world under the title of "advocate" -- and advising others how to lobby.
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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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