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McCain and Obama Get Testy; Obama Can't Defend PhRMA Deal

1:12 PM, Feb 25, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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ABC News notes this exchange between former campaign adversaries Barack Obama and John McCain, which will probably end up being the headline out of the summit, but it revealed something beyond sore egos from '08:

McCain criticized the president’s bill and brought up the promise then-Sen. Obama made and did not keep to hold the previous year’s negotiations for the bill in front of C-SPAN cameras.

“Both of us during the campaign promised change in Washington,” McCain said. “In fact, eight times (as a candidate) you said that negotiations on health care reform would be broadcast on C-SPAN cameras. I'm glad that more than a year later they are, here. Unfortunately, this product was not produced in that fashion, it was produced behind closed doors.”

McCain continued saying the American people “want us to go back to the beginning. They want us not to do this kind of legislation. They want us to sit down together and do what’s best for all Americans, not just for some people who live in Florida or who happen to live in other favored states. They want a uniform treatment of all Americans.” He suggested  “the special deals for the special interests and favored few” should be removed from the bill.

“Let me just make this point, John, because we’re not campaigning anymore,” the president said. “The election’s over.”

“I am reminded of that every day,” McCain said, forcing a smile.

Improbably, Obama ended up sounding like his was the sorer ego in the fight. The exchange came after Obama had tried to cut off McCain, and McCain had steamed ahead. What was more telling than the echoes of 2008, however, was which of McCain's concerns Obama answered and which he didnt.

McCain has the facts on his side. Hearings were not on C-SPAN, and the sweetheart deals created by Democrats during the ugly legislative process mean the bills on the table favor some states and constituencies over others based on how much clout their representatives and lobbyists have in D.C.

That was exactly what Obama campaigned against, but it has nonetheless come to pass in a very colorful way in the health-care reform process. What the ABC report doesn't mention is that a large portion of McCain's comments were about the $80 billion deal Obama made with PhRMA, almost entirely behind closed doors, granting the pharmaceutical industry carve-outs and influence over the final bill.

Read this thorough tick-tock of how the deal came together to get a sense of the true gap between Obama's rhetoric on transparency and reality. It's a part of the health-care legislative process that has united Left and Right in disgust. Here's a taste:

Soon after, PhRMA’s big guns and industry lobbyists paid the White House another visit on July 7 and this time met with Rahm Emanuel and Jim Messina (Baucus’ chief of staff Jon Selib is also listed in White House visitor logs for this meeting). In August, The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reported on an internal memo that was drafted at that meeting that outlined the policies that would not be allowed into any final version of health care reform. These included Medicare prescription drug negotiations, drug re-importation, and the lowering of prices for drugs available through Medicare Part D and Part B. The deal would be $80 billion in cost cutting and absolutely no more.

In Obama's answer to McCain, he addressed the accusations about the C-SPAN promise with his usual argument— that a lot of stuff was televised, even if his specific promise was not kept. He said not a word in his defense over the PhRMA deal.

He can't defend it. Maybe that's what got him so ticked off.

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