Drug Money

Today at noon, MoveOn.org will present a check for $99,185 to Republican Congressman Pete Sessions at his Dallas office. As you might expect, there's a catch: It's a giant novelty check, symbolizing the money Sessions has gotten from pharmaceutical companies over his career. In the 3rd District next door, a check for $72,000 will be simultaneously presented to Republican Congressman Sam Johnson. Both figures are actually just a drop in the bucket as drug company donations go: Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum, for example, got more than $208,000 in drug money in the past two years alone.

So why the publicity blitz? Next Monday is the deadline for seniors to sign up for the Medicare drug benefit passed in 2003, and if they don't make it, private health insurance companies get to charge many of them one percent more—forever. Never mind that the program is so confusing even Medicare's 800-number help line gave out bad info nearly a third of the time, or that it will cost more than twice what it was supposed to, or that Medicare is prohibited from bargaining for lower drug prices. It's sign up, or else.

"It's just such a giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry, it's incredible," says local organizer Robert Weitzel. And he should know: He's an M.D., as are two more of the 45 people signed up to attend the protest. The giant checks are intended to guilt Republicans into bucking the Bush Administration and authorizing an extension of the deadline.

How effective they'll be is another question. MoveOn has become legendary for mobilizing the liberal grassroots, but Sessions is virtually untouchable in his DeLay-gerrymandered district. The group's best bet for changing Sessions' loyalties would probably be to simply trade the symbolic giant check (which cost them nine bucks at Kinko's, in case you're wondering) for a genuine fat one. Let's see—a mere $99,186 would make them the highest bidder. --Rick Kennedy

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