- - Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Department of Justice doesn’t have time to investigate the abuse of taxpayers at the IRS, but it has plenty of time to harass shipping companies FedEx and UPS, making life difficult for everybody as only the government can. It’s all about Obamacare and payback time.

In April, UPS was fined $40 million for taking shipments of medicine from overseas pharmacies that the administration claims are “illegal.” The government won’t file charges against customers here looking for pharmaceuticals at lower prices. It won’t go after the overseas pharmacies, either.

The government is going after the middlemen under the strained legal theory of “secondary liability,” which holds UPS and FedEx liable for overseas pharmacies that fill prescriptions for Americans at steep discounts that might otherwise be filled with more expensive American-made drugs. Faced with fighting an uphill court battle against the government, UPS decided to pay a fine and sign a confession. “We believe we have an obligation and responsibility to help curb the sale and shipment of drugs sold through illegal Internet pharmacies,” said a spokesman for UPS, trying to sound like a good little company.

But Memphis-based FedEx intends to fight. It will go to court Tuesday in San Francisco to answer federal drug-trafficking charges. “We will plead not guilty,” says company spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald. “We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees . We are a transportation company. We are not law enforcement.”

FedEx trucks and planes deliver 10 million packages and envelopes every day. It can’t reasonably be expected to open each one to decide whether shipments are legitimate. When FedEx asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to tell the company which online pharmacies it shouldn’t accept packages from, the agency declined to say.

The administration’s harassment is at odds with the position Barack Obama took when he was campaigning for president. Candidate Obama championed the cause of enabling Americans to order less-expensive prescription drugs overseas. In 2006, Sen. Obama was a co-sponsor of legislation proposed by Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, enabling the reimportation of prescription drugs.

The new president changed his tune. When he was desperate to collect the votes to enact Obamacare, he wheeled and dealed with gusto. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu traded her “yea” for a $300 million provision in the bill. Ben Nelson, then a senator from Nebraska, got his “Cornhusker Kickback,” a $100 million payoff for a program he wanted. John Kerry won a sweetheart deal for a hospital in Nantucket before he moved on to the State Department.

The White House was eager for the support of outside groups as well. Mr. Obama’s chief of staff was assigned to get the support of PhRMA, the lobbying arm for the U.S. drug manufacturers. In exchange for their support, the president’s men agreed to reverse Mr. Obama’s long-standing support of reimportation of drugs. Like magic, PhRMA endorsed Obamacare. PhRMA made a $150 million advertising campaign for the health care takeover appear with more magic in swing states and congressional districts.

The harassment of UPS and FedEx looks like an extension of this sordid deal. Americans can still order their prescription drugs from overseas, but they’ll have to go get them. UPS and FedEx won’t deliver them because they can’t. With millions of other Americans, we’re rooting for FedEx on its day in court.