by Jonathan E. Kaplan, The Hill, January 29, 2003
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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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
“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.”