Some marriages are made in heaven, some in hell. The matrimony of Billy Tauzin and Big Pharma was definitely hellish—especially for us innocent bystanders.

Tauzin, a longtime Congress critter who became a lobbyist, is an old school wheeler-dealer. He reminds me of a New York politico who always skated on the thin ice of ethics, candidly explaining that, “I seen my chances, and I took ’em.”

Elected to the U.S. House 30 years ago as a Democrat from Louisiana, Tauzin rose to become chairman of a powerful committee, where he was a faithful servant to industry interests. In 1994, Republicans took over the House of Representatives. Billy’s star was about to fade. Seeing his chances, he cut a deal with the GOP to switch parties in exchange for becoming chairman of the House committee that handles legislation affecting drug corporations.

From that position, Tauzin engineered a Medicare boondoggle in 2004 that gives the drug giants a fat subsidy costing taxpayers billions of dollars every year. Grateful for the windfall profits, Big Pharma asked Billy that very year to get hitched. Seeing his chances, Tauzin became the drug industry’s chief lobbyist, drawing an annual paycheck of $2 million. Using his insider connections, he’s been effective at killing various proposals that would’ve stopped the rip-off prices that drug companies make us pay for our medicine.

Last year, however, Billy cut one deal too many. He agreed to support President Barack Obama’s health-care reform in a tradeoff that really didn’t please anyone, especially his own industry leaders—so they rather rudely dumped him.

Now Tauzin’s out of work, but don’t forget him. Next time you’re gouged by the drug giants, remember: It wouldn’t happen without the work of self-serving hucksters like Billy.

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Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and the 2009 winner of the Nation/Puffin Prize. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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