- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Rep. Billy Tauzin told House Republican leaders yesterday that he is stepping down from his powerful chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and that he will not seek re-election in the fall.

The Louisiana Republican officially made his decision Sunday night and hand-delivered a letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, yesterday around 6:30 p.m., said Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson.

It had been speculated that the 12-term congressman was considering leaving Congress because his name has come up for top positions at lobbying groups for both the motion picture and pharmaceutical industries.

Mr. Tauzin’s chairmanship resignation is effective Feb. 15, to give the committee time to make the transition, Mr. Johnson said. He said his boss’s decision to step down and not run for re-election had a lot to do with health concerns.

“Ultimately, a couple of recent health scares prompted him to reassess where he’s at in life and where he wants to go next,” Mr. Johnson said, noting that Mr. Tauzin, 60, was hospitalized in December and January for bleeding ulcers.

As chairman of one of the most powerful and wide-ranging committees in the House, Mr. Tauzin helped craft and push through Congress the Medicare prescription drug legislation, and has been a key player in energy overhaul and telecommunications bills as well.

It made waves when his name repeatedly surfaced as a contender to head the lobbying arm of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which represents the country’s leading drug makers. Mr. Tauzin recently turned down an offer to head the Motion Picture Association of America.

Mr. Johnson wouldn’t confirm whether Mr. Tauzin is considering any job offers. He did stress that “no one at any time approached [Mr. Tauzin]” from PhRMA during the Medicare drug bill debate, and that, “absolutely no one in [House] leadership asked him to step down as chairman. It was his decision and his decision alone.”

The private watchdog group Common Cause, in particular, has raised concern about Mr. Tauzin negotiating for these positions while serving as chairman of a committee that deals with legislation affecting these industries.

“It doesn’t look good,” Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle said recently.

Mr. Tauzin was first elected to the House in 1980 as a Democrat. He switched to the Republican Party in 1995, seven months after the party took control of the House.

A colorful legislator with a knack for working with both Republicans and Democrats, Mr. Tauzin in 2001 received the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he guided through Medicare legislation earlier this year that includes prescription drug benefits and forbids the government from negotiating lower prices from drug companies.

In his letter, Mr. Tauzin said he was stepping down as committee chairman to allow a smoother transition.

Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, said yesterday he would seek the job and had met with Mr. Hastert last night to discuss his future. Mr. Barton is chairman of Commerce’s energy and air quality subcommittee.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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