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 Article of Interest - Washington

Lobbyists target Burton
by Jonathan E. Kaplan, The Hill, January 29, 2003
For more articles visit www.bridges4kids.org


Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has ended a dispute over what to do with his predecessor, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), and has decided to give him a subcommittee chairmanship.

Davis told The Hill that he would do so despite criticism from some drug companies who believe Burton has a personal vendetta against them.

“Dan ought to have a subcommittee,” Davis said. “I have full confidence in Dan Burton. If anybody feels shafted, we’ll sit down with them.”

Under criticism from some GOP lawmakers, Davis has also rehired committee staffers whom he had fired.

He says the realignment of jurisdictions between Burton and Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), who is giving up oversight of public health policy, is “completely amicable.”
Davis expects to finish sorting out the subcommittee assignments within a few days, he says.

But lobbyists for the pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines for children do not want Burton, who has an autistic grandson, to be given a platform to pursue more investigations into claims that children’s vaccines can cause autism.

The lobbyists spoke on the condition of anonymity. John Cardarelli, Burton’s press secretary, did not return repeated calls requesting comment.

“[Burton] has set back immunization efforts in this country 10 years,” said a lobbyist for a drug company. “We’re now seeing parents scared to get kids immunized. Everybody has expressed their concern about Burton running these anti-vaccine hearings. The feedback we’ve got is that nobody in leadership is excited.”

He added: “My gut feeling is that it does not matter what the name of the subcommittee is. It is a broad enough forum. I don’t see Dan Burton going away.”

Another lobbyist for a vaccine-manufacturing drug company said they were unhappy to see Burton further undermine the benefits of vaccines, but that the industry had no organized strategy to oppose him or ability to effect committee assignments.

Public health groups are concerned, too. “If he does not have a subcommittee chair, he’ll do something else,” said a lobbyist for an advocacy organization. “The bigger question is: When is enough enough? Some of us would say it’s been enough.”

While the leadership is not happy with the situation, it is staying silent. John Feehery, a spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), declined to comment on the matter.

For its part, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the lobbying group for the industry, denied it is opposed to Burton’s chairmanship.

“In three weeks of legislative strategy meetings, I did not hear one person say one thing about Mr. Burton,” said Mike Tuffin, the group’s spokesman. “That’s an internal House matter. We’re not concerned at all who might chair the subcommittee.”

In the 2002 election cycle, drug companies raised $17,481,391 for the Republicans, according to Opensecrets.org. The United Seniors Assn., an advocacy group largely funded by PhRMA, ran a reported $12 million in political advertisements supporting GOP candidates.

The few companies that make vaccines, which are expensive to produce and heavily regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, are concerned mainly because Burton’s tactics could subject them to lawsuits over products that generate only 5 percent of their revenues, experts in the industry said.

But Davis, who was chosen over more-senior lawmakers to lead the panel several weeks ago, has the power to rein in Burton: To prevent so-called fishing expeditions, all subpoenas will have to be approved by the full panel’s chairman.

Burton, as committee chairman, held extensive hearings into allegations that children’s vaccines have caused an alarming rise in autism, and vaccine safety generally. He has a strong following among a small, but politically potent, group of parents with autistic children.

Since April 2001, Burton has held five hearings on the subject, according to the committee’s website. He has written letters asking President Bush to host a White House conference on autism and to others advocating increases in research funding.

“It’s been pretty clear that there is some connection between vaccinations and autism,” said Craig Snyder, a lobbyist with IKON Public Affairs. “I’m sure he would continue to explore this.”

Meanwhile, Souder, who currently chairs the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources, said he was more than willing to relinquish oversight of public health policy.

“It’s more a practical matter,” said Souder, adding that his panel had oversight of too many issues. “My primary goal is to keep oversight of narcotics policy, faith-based initiatives, social issues and, hopefully, national parks.”

Davis also has announced he would abolish the District of Columbia Subcommittee.
“The subcommittees will look very different than the last Congress’,” said David Marin, Davis’ spokesman. “It will be based on members’ areas of expertise and interest.”
 

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