Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s recent proffered amendment to the 2010 Unemployment Benefits Extension bill — the one that Senator Hatch, 37 other Republicans, one Democrat, and an Independent successfully filibustered on Thursday — has met with considerable negative feedback, especially since it requires unemployment benefits recipients to undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing in order to receive their unemployment check. But Orrin Hatch seems to think it necessary, implying that unemployment benefits recipients and welfare recipients have been using the money for drugs and alcohol, maintaining that giving the money to those who aren’t productive and addicted to the federal assistance was bad for the nation and drug testing would be an effective way to enable addicts and alcoholics to get help and at the same time save the nation money, thereby possibly decreasing the national debt. But if one were to think that Senator Orrin Hatch’s motives were entirely altruistic in nature, one might want to consider that, according to the Washington Times, Senator Orrin Hatch has pharmaceutical connections — including his son, who is a pharmaceutical interests lobbyist.
Many forget that Orrin Hatch, in an expose published in the Washington Times in 2009, was discovered as having questionable ties with what is called “Big Pharma,” the trillion-dollar pharmaceuticals industry. In a 2008 IRS disclosure report, it was discovered that a charity organization, Utah Famiies Foundation, that Orrin Hatch helped found had taken in nearly $175,000 in contributions from five pharmaceutical companies and the industry’s leading lobbyist in fiscal year 2007. Although listed by the company as an “honorary host,” Hatch has no formal ties to the nonprofit organization and the various pharmaceutical companies attest that their contributions to the organization are altruistic. Yet, they are quick to note that they contribute because of Orrin Hatch’s connection to the nonprofit as well.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America told the Washington Times that any charitable cause supported by Senator Orrin Hatch “automatically carries the gold seal of approval.”
That statement by PhRMA’s senior vice president Ken Johnson also describes Hatch’s work for the pharmaceutical industry in Congress. Hatch has often been criticized for his close ties with the health industry in general and the pharmaceutical industry in particular. The Washington Times listed many of the reasons why, including trips sponsored and paid for by Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, voting against a bill in Congress in 2003 that would have made it easier for generic drugs to enter the marketplace (Hatch’s vote was, in fact, the only dissenting vote cast), using a complimentary Gulfstream executive jet provided by drugmaker Schering-Plough Corp during his 2000 presidential bid, and co-sponsoring a Medicare bill in 2003 while holding $18,000 worth of shares in Pfizer.
Hatch’s son, Scott, as part of the lobbying firm, Walker, Martin, & Hatch LLC, represents PhRMA’s interests on capital hill. He, of course, maintains that he has never lobbied his father’s support on any legislation concerning the pharmaceutical industry, a statement his father corroborates.
But in the end, who would most benefit by the an amendment to the 2010 Unemployment Benefits Extension Bill imposing a program on the unemployment benefits system that made drug and alcohol testing? Pharmaceutical companies and the health industry. And who would benefit most by all those who might fail a drug or alcohol screening and then be forced to get treatment (properly certified) in order to resume receiving their unemployment benefits? The health and pharmaceutical industry.
There are nearly 10 million people on unemployment benefits in the United States. If mandatory drug and alcohol testing were to take place, there is not one shred of evidence that suggests Orrin Hatch’s amendment would save the nation money. It would further increase federal expenditures through its actual existence alone. (Drug and alcohol tests are not free. And who is going to pay for them? The unemployed? Will they take the amount out of the unemployment check, further reducing the amount?) In fact, making drug testing mandatory might increase the national debt (unless Congress finds some other program’s budget to cut to pay for it). It could potentially increase the financial burden of hundreds of thousand who could potentially fail the drug tests and be cut off from monies that is rightfully theirs (because of work done and money paid into the unemployment benefits system on their behalf).
But there is plenty of evidence, based on Hatch’s own voting record and financial disclosure forms, that the pharmaceutical companies and the health care industry would benefit greatly from Hatch’s amendment to the 2010 Unemployment Benefits Extension Bill. And considering that Orrin Hatch has benefited from his close relationship with the industry in the past, there is no reason not to assume that he (and his lobbyist son, Scott) would not benefit from the adoption of such an amendment as well.