- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A House panel on Wednesday will consider shining a light on White House deals made with special-interest groups during the push to pass a health care reform bill.

The Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to take up a resolution that demands the administration release documents related to any and all negotiations concerning the measure.

A widely reported pact between pharmaceutical companies and the White House — in which the industry agreed to support health care reform in exchange for a limited financial hit — raised the ire of both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill as the health bill slogged through both chambers.

Lawmakers argue that the agreement let the pharmaceutical industry, represented by trade group PhRMA, off the hook too easily. They also question whether other groups, such as hospital associations and unions, were involved.

Rep. Michael C. Burgess, Texas Republican, offered the resolution after a previous attempt to get the same information, through a letter, failed.

“Despite your promise to make all health care reform negotiations in public, we still have very few details on what exactly was agreed to during these highly publicized negotiations,” Mr. Burgess wrote in a September letter, in reference to President Obama’s campaign pledges to conduct health reform talks in the public’s view.

Democrats on Capitol Hill argued during debate in both the House and Senate that they didn’t have to live up to the White House handshakes. But attempts to override the agreements — such as a Senate amendment to allow prescription drugs to be imported into the United States — failed amid what some lawmakers said was White House lobbying.

The Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to markup the resolution on Wednesday, shortly before Mr. Obama heads to Capitol Hill for his State of the Union address.

Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman declined to say how he’d vote on the resolution.

“I support Congress getting the information that were entitled to, yes, but I don’t think that means that particular resolution,” he said.

The California Democrat has been critical of the deals, arguing while the bill was going through the House that he wasn’t part of any agreement and didn’t have an obligation to follow it.

Mr. Waxman on several occasions said he wanted to get more money out of the pharmaceutical companies before the House passed its bill.

The resolutions requests phone logs, e-mail records, calendars or any other documents relating to “written or verbal agreements” pertaining to any of the health bills considered on Capitol Hill last year. It covers any agreement between the White House or Department of Health and Human Services since Mr. Obama’s inauguration.

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