Editorial: Listen to that Washington money talk

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U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Republican from Utah, is threatening to scuttle the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal because it is not very nice to the pharmaceutical industry.

Sen. Hatch also has hauled in $3.2 million from the pharmaceutical industry since 1990, the most of anybody in Congress.

Feel free to wonder whether Hatch has been bought and sold.

This is the problem with Big Money in politics, right? You never really know who anybody is working for. For the voter? For the elderly woman on a modest income who can barely afford her prescription meds? Or for the Washington lobbyists who write the big checks?

You can believe what a pol says — and Hatch is hardly alone in this. Or you can follow the money.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not a perfect deal, but it is a good and necessary one. It is designed to eliminate or greatly reduce 18,000 tariffs on goods moving among the United States, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Vietnam and seven other countries. If this deal is not approved by Congress, trade with those nations will continue to grow — greater global trade is the way of the world — but it will be on disadvantageous terms set by others, most notably China, not by the United States.

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Hatch’s beef with the deal is that it protects intellectual property rights on next-generation biological drugs for only five to eight years, instead of 12, as the United States provides for now.

That’s a valid concern. Pharmaceutical companies need time and protection to recover their investment in the development of new drugs, and they must make a big enough profit to cover the cost of other research that goes nowhere. If America wants to continue to be a pioneer in developing new drugs, property right protections — warding off cheaper generic copycat drugs — make good sense for some time.

But Orrin Hatch is the wrong person to make that argument.

This is a man who rolls in pharmaceutical cash. This is a man who, according to the New York Times, flew around the country in a jet owned by the Schering-Plough pharmaceutical company when he ran for president in 2000. This is a man whose lobbyist son has represented the drug industry and individual drug companies. Hatch’s staffers often go to work for the industry.

As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Hatch can keep the trade deal from coming to a vote. But what Hatch is asking for is not just a simple tweak. The fight over the duration of intellectual property rights tied trade negotiations in knots for years and was one of the last issues to be settled. Pull that out of the deal, and every nation will want to retract concessions it made. Japan’s minister has compared it to a glass ornament that would shatter if it is re-opened.

Sen. Hatch should recuse himself from this entire conversation.

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