A new report from Public Citizen concludes that the number and size of federal and state settlements against the pharmaceutical industry remained low in 2016 and 2017, with federal criminal penalties nearly disappearing. Financial penalties continued to pale in comparison to company profits, with the $38.6 billion in penalties from 1991 through 2017 amounting to only 5% of the $711 billion in net profits made by the 11 largest global drug companies during just 10 of those 27 years (2003-2012). To our knowledge, a parent company has never been excluded from participation in Medicare and Medicaid for illegal activities, which endanger the public health and deplete taxpayer-funded programs. Criminal prosecutions of executives leading companies engaged in these illegal activities have been extremely rare. Much larger penalties and successful prosecutions of company executives that oversee systemic fraud, including jail sentences if appropriate, are necessary to deter future unlawful behavior. Otherwise, the illegal but profitable activities will continue to be part of companies’ business model.
President Trump promised to “drain the swamp” when he got to Washington. Yet his appointments have included not just former lobbyists, but dozens of lobbyists whose governmental responsibilities fall into the same specific issue areas that they lobbied within the last two years — an apparent violation of Trump’s own executive order on ethics. In a new report, Public Citizen identifies 37 recent hires with lobbying conflicts stemming from activity within the last two years, only four of whom have received ethics waivers.
Public anger over the cost of drugs has burned hot for a year, writes The New York Times, coursing through social media, popping up on the presidential campaign, and erupting in a series of congressional hearings, including one last week over the rising price of the allergy treatment EpiPen. But one set of voices has been oddly muted — the nation’s biggest patient advocacy groups. The groups wield multimillion-dollar budgets and influence on Capitol Hill, but they have been largely absent in the public debate over pricing. But critics say that by avoiding the debate over cost, they are failing in their patient-advocacy duties. “It is a conflict of interest, because the interests of the pharmaceutical industry, from whom they are getting support, may be different from the interests of the patients,” said Dr. Michael Carome, the director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.
Compliance Panel Says U.S. Policy Still Violates WTO Despite Changes Made to Comply With 2012 WTO Order; U.S. Should Not Change COOL Policy
(The recent) ruling by a World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance panel against U.S country-of-origin meat labeling (COOL) policies sets up a no-win dynamic, and the Obama administration should appeal the ruling, Public Citizen said.
If the administration were to weaken COOL, U.S. consumers would lose access to critical information about where their meat comes from at a time when consumer interest in such information is at an all-time high and opposition would only grow to the administration’s beleaguered trade agenda. If the administration again were to seek to comply with the WTO by strengthening COOL, then Mexico and Canada – the two countries that challenged the policy – likely would continue their case, even though cattle imports from Canada have increased since the 2013 strengthening of the policy.
The ruling further complicates the Obama administration’s stalled efforts to obtain Fast Track trade authority for two major agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. Both of these pacts would expose the United States to more such challenges against U.S. consumer, environmental and other policies.
“Many Americans will be shocked that the WTO can order our government to deny U.S. consumers the basic information about where their food comes from and that if the information policy is not gutted, we could face millions in sanctions every year,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Today’s ruling spotlights how these so called ‘trade’ deals are packed with non-trade provisions that threaten our most basic rights, such as even knowing the source and safety of what’s on our dinner plate.”
The WTO compliance panel decided that changes made in May 2013 to the original U.S. COOL policy in an effort to make it comply with a 2012 WTO ruling against the law are not acceptable and that the modified U.S. COOL policy still constitutes a “technical barrier to trade.” The panel decided that the strengthened COOL policy afforded less favorable treatment to cattle and hog imports from Canada and Mexico, despite a 52 percent increase in U.S. imports of cattle from Canada under the modified policy. The panel stated that the alleged difference in treatment did not “stem exclusively from legitimate regulatory distinctions.”
The United States has one chance to appeal this decision before the WTO issues a final, binding ruling. Under WTO rules, if the U.S. appeal fails, Canada and Mexico would be authorized to impose indefinite trade sanctions against the United States unless or until the U.S. government changes or eliminates the popular labeling policy.
“The WTO again ruling against a popular U.S. consumer protection will just spur the growing public and congressional concerns about the big Pacific and European trade deals the administration is now pushing and the Fast Track authority to railroad through Congress more agreements that undermine basic consumer rights,” said Wallach.
The COOL policy was created when Congress enacted mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat – supported by 92 percent of the U.S. public in a recent poll – in the 2008 farm bill. This occurred after 50 years of U.S. government experimentation with voluntary labeling and efforts by U.S. consumer groups to institute a mandatory program.
In their successful challenge of COOL at the WTO, Canada and Mexico claimed that the program violated WTO limits on what sorts of product-related “technical regulations” signatory countries are permitted to enact. The initial WTO ruling was issued in November 2011. Canada and Mexico demanded that the United States drop its mandatory labels in favor of a return to a voluntary program or standards set by an international food standards body in which numerous international food companies play a central role. Neither option would offer U.S. consumers the same level of information as the current labels. The United States appealed.
The WTO Appellate Body sided with Mexico and Canada in a June 2012 ruling against COOL. The U.S. government responded to the final WTO ruling by altering the policy in a way that fixed the problems identified by the WTO tribunal. However, instead of watering down the popular program as Mexico and Canada sought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture responded with a rule change in May 2013 that strengthened the labeling regime. The new policy provided more country-of-origin information to consumers, which satisfied the issues raised in the WTO’s ruling. However, Mexico and Canada then challenged the new U.S. policy. With today’s ruling, the WTO has announced its support for the Mexican and Canadian contention that the U.S. law is still not consistent with the WTO rules.
The Camp-Baucus Fast Track bill replicates the procedures included in the 2002 grant of Fast Track that expired in 2007:
The president would be empowered to unilaterally select trade negotiating partners and commence negotiations. Like the 2002 Fast Track, in the Camp-Baucus bill this authority is conditioned only on pro forma consultations and 90 calendar days’ notice being given to Congress before negotiations begin. The Camp-Baucus bill provides no mechanism for Congress to veto a president’s decision to enter into negotiations on a trade pact that would be subject to expedited floor procedures, nor any role in selecting with which countries such pacts are initiated. (Sec. 5(a))
The president would be empowered to unilaterally control the contents of an agreement. As with the 2002 Fast Track, congressional negotiating objectives in the Camp-Baucus bill are not enforceable. Whether or not U.S. negotiators obtain the listed negotiating objectives, the Camp-Baucus bill would empower the president to sign a trade pact before Congress votes on it, with a guarantee that the executive branch could write legislation to implement the pact and obtain House and Senate votes within 90 days, with all amendments forbidden and a maximum of 20 hours of debate permitted. (Sec. 3(b)(3))
Democratic and GOP presidents alike have historically ignored negotiating objectives included in Fast Track. The 1988 Fast Track used for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) included a negotiating objective on labor standards, but neither pact included such terms. The 2002 Fast Track listed as a priority the establishment of mechanisms to counter currency manipulation, but none of the pacts established under that authority included such terms.
The president would be authorized to sign and enter into an agreement subject to expedited consideration conditioned only on pro forma consultations and providing Congress 90 calendar days’ notice prior to doing so. (Sec. 6(a)(1)) The executive branch alone would determine when negotiations are “complete.” The congressional “consultation” mechanisms in the Camp-Baucus bill do not provide Congress with any authority or mechanism to formally dispute whether negotiations have indeed met Congress’ goals and thus are complete, much less any means for Congress to certify that its objectives were met before an agreement may be signed.
The president would be authorized to write expansive implementing legislation and submit it for consideration. (Sec. 6(a)(1)(C)) As with the 2002 Fast Track, such legislation would not be subject to congressional committee markup and amendment. The 2002 Fast Track states that this legislation can include any changes to U.S. law that the president deems “necessary or appropriate to implement such trade agreement or agreements.” (19 USC 3803(b)(3)(B)(ii)) Inclusion of the term “appropriate” in this section of past Fast Track authorities has been controversial, because it provides enormous discretion for the executive branch to include changes to existing U.S. law that Congress may or may not deem necessary to implement an agreement. Indeed, inclusion of the term “appropriate” has enabled Democratic and GOP administrations alike to insert extraneous changes to U.S. law into legislation that skirts committee mark up and is not subject to floor amendment. Rather than remove the term “appropriate,” the Camp-Baucus bill merely adds the superfluous modifier “strictly” in front of the same “necessary or appropriate” language found in the 2002 Fast Track. (Sec. 3(b)(3(B)ii)) As with the 2002 Fast Track, there is no point of order or other mechanism to challenge inclusion of overreaching provisions in the implementing bill.
Like the 2002 Fast Track, the Camp-Baucus bill would require the House to vote on such legislation within 60 session days, with the Senate having an additional 30 days to vote thereafter. (Sec. 3(b)(3))
Like the 2002 Fast Track, the Camp-Baucus bill would forbid all amendments and permit only 20 hours of debate on such legislation in the House and Senate. Voting, including in the Senate, would be by simple majority. (Sec. 3(b)(3))
The Camp-Baucus bill replicates the 2002 Fast Track with respect to limitations that could be placed on the application of the Fast Track process to a specific trade agreement. While the factsheet on the bill released by the Finance Committee suggests that it includes a “strong, comprehensive” disapproval process, in fact it replicates the 2002 Fast Track’s limited grounds for which a resolution to disapprove Fast Track can be offered. The Camp-Baucus bill also replicates the 2002 Fast Track’s procedures for consideration of such a resolution, which curtail the prospect that such a resolution would ever receive a vote. To obtain floor action, a resolution would have to be approved by the Ways and Means and Finance committees, and then the House and Senate would have to both pass the resolution within a 60-day period. (Sec. 6(b))
The Camp-Baucus bill includes several negotiating objectives not found in the 2002 Fast Track. However, the Fast Track process that this legislation would reestablish ensures that these objectives are entirely unenforceable:
In addition, some of the Camp-Baucus bill negotiating objectives advertised as “new” are in fact referenced in the 2002 Fast Track. For example, the 2002 Fast Track included currency measures: “seek to establish consultative mechanisms among parties to trade agreements to examine the trade consequences of significant and unanticipated currency movements and to scrutinize whether a foreign government engaged in a pattern of manipulating its currency to promote a competitive advantage in international trade.” (19 USC 3802(c)(12)) The so-called “new” text in the Camp-Baucus bill is: “The principal negotiating objective of the United States with respect to currency practices is that parties to a trade agreement with the United States avoid manipulating exchange rates in order to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other parties to the agreement, such as through cooperative mechanisms, enforceable rules, reporting, monitoring, transparency, or other means, as appropriate.” (Sec. 2(b)(11))
What is touted as “enhanced coordination with Congress” is actually the mere renaming of the Congressional Oversight Group from the 2002 Fast Track as “Congressional Advisory Groups on Negotiations,” while provisions ostensibly improving transparency merely formalize past practice:
The 2002 Fast Track established a Congressional Oversight Group (COG) comprised of members of Congress appointed by congressional leaders who were to obtain special briefings from the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office on the status of negotiations and to attend negotiations on an advisory basis. The Camp-Baucus bill renames the COG – delineating a “House Advisory Group on Negotiations” and a “Senate Advisory Group on Negotiations” and describing joint activities of the two – but includes the same appointment process and limited role for congressional trade advisory groups as found in the 2002 Fast Track. (Sec. 4(c))
The Camp-Baucus bill instructs USTR to write guidelines for its consultations with Congress, the public and private sector advisory groups. In effect, this provision merely requires USTR to put into writing how it will (or will not) relate to these interested parties. (e.g. Sec. 4(a)(3) and Sec. 4(d)(1))
The Camp-Baucus bill simply formalizes the past practices of USTR by requiring that any member of Congress be provided access to trade agreement documents. For instance, during NAFTA negotiations, members of Congress had open access to the full draft NAFTA texts with a new version placed into a secure reading room in the U.S. Capitol after each round of negotiations. In the summer of 2013, the Obama administration finally responded to growing pressure by members of Congress for access to draft TPP texts by bringing requested specific chapters to members’ offices for review when a member asked for such access. Rather than specifying that USTR must resume the practice of providing standing access for members of Congress to full draft trade agreement texts, the Camp-Baucus bill leaves to the discretion of USTR how it will provide text access to members of Congress if a member requests access. (Sec. 4(a)(1)(B))
The Camp-Baucus bill also replicates the problematic language of the 2002 Fast Track that limits access to confidential trade agreement proposals and draft texts for congressional staff with the necessary security clearances to only committee staff, excluding personal staff with clearances. (Sec. 4(a)(3)(B)(ii))
The Camp-Baucus bill faces long odds for approval in the 113th Congress:
With a large bloc of House Democrats and Republicans already having announced opposition to the old Fast Track process at the heart of Camp-Baucus bill, the prospects are limited for the Obama administration to secure passage in the first half of 2014 before lawmakers’ attention turns to midterm elections.
A letter sent to President Obama in November by 151 Democrats opposed Fast Track authority and called for the creation of a new mechanism for trade agreement negotiations and approval.
Twenty-seven Republicans have also announced their opposition to Fast Track in two letters to Obama.
Most Democratic Ways and Means Committee members joined an additional letter in November noting that the old Fast Track process enjoys little support.
Even after repeated delays in introduction, the Camp-Baucus Fast Track bill failed to gain a House Democratic cosponsor. Ways and Means Ranking Member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) has announced that he does not support the Camp-Baucus bill. Levin’s demands for changes to the 2002 Fast Track procedure to enhance Congress’ role in determining the contents of trade pacts were rebuffed by Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
The Camp-Baucus Fast Track grandfathers in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and U.S.-EU Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) negotiations. (Sec. 7) Fast Track for the TPP and TAFTA is especially controversial because these pacts would include chapters on patents, copyright, financial regulation, energy policy, procurement, food safety and more, constraining the policies that Congress and state legislatures could maintain or establish on these sensitive non-trade matters. Fast Track was designed in the 1970s when trade negotiations were narrowly focused on cutting tariffs and quotas, not the sweeping range of non-trade policies implicated by today’s pacts.
Fast Track is an anomaly. It has only been in effect for five of the past 19 years:
Both Democratic and GOP presidents have struggled to convince Congress to delegate its constitutional trade authority via the Nixon-era Fast Track scheme. Fast Track has been in effect for only five years (2002-2007) of the 19 years since passage of NAFTA and the agreement that created the WTO.
A two-year effort by President Bill Clinton to obtain Fast Track trade authority during his second term in office was voted down on the House floor in 1998 when 171 Democrats were joined by 71 GOP members who bucked then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. Clinton did not have Fast Track for six of his eight years in office, but still implemented more than 130 trade agreements.
President George W. Bush spent two years and extraordinary political capital to obtain the 2002-2007 Fast Track grant, which passed a Republican-controlled House by one vote, and expired in 2007.