The populist Senator backs regulatory changes, tax credits and more government funding for home state heavyweights.
Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic star who just last week unveiled a bill targeting the profits of large drug makers, doesn’t sound like much of a populist when it comes to another group of big health care corporations, the medical device manufacturers, many of which happen to be headquartered in the Senator’s home state of Massachusetts. Warren’s coziness with those companies is now earning her criticism within her party, with one former Democratic Senate staffer describing some of her positions as “repulsive.”
Warren took to the floor of the Senate on Jan. 29 to unveil a bill she said would act as a kind of multi-million dollar “swear jar” for pharmaceutical companies that break the law, penalizing them when they get caught and using the funds to supplement scientific research. With the folksy delivery that has made her a favorite of progressives across the country, she said that powerful, moneyed lobbyists had opposed the bill, but that her message to them and their big business bosses was, “If they don’t want to put a dollar in the swear jar, then stop swearing.”
What Warren didn’t say was that her bill has a loophole in it for medical device manufacturers. Those companies, which make everything from latex gloves to Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines, would be exempt from her proposed penalties unless they also make drugs. At the same time, her bill explicitly ensures that the so-called “medtech” companies would benefit from the research dollars that her “swear jar” would generate.
Warren is widely seen as the defender of everyday Americans against the scourge of business interests that she says manipulate Washington, rig regulation and fuel corporate welfare. But when it comes to the medical device industry, she sings a different tune, albeit quietly. Since she launched her campaign for the Senate in 2011, Warren has come out in favor several medical device industry priorities, including rewriting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, bolstering federal research funding and making permanent certain temporary tax credits for research and development.
Most visibly, she wants to repeal the medical device taxes that help fund President Barack Obama’s signature health reform, the Affordable Care Act. That position has brought her into a surprising, if temporary, alliance on the issue with the new Republican leaders of Congress, who see repeal of the medical device tax as their most likely legislative vehicle to chip away at Obamacare.