Tauzin, a Democrat who helped found the conservative Blue Dog coalition in the House before switching to the Republican Party in 1995, was chairman of the House committee that helped shepherd Medicare drug legislation through Congress, including the provision that the government not interfere with price negotiations.

Tauzin said PhRMA's support for Obama's initiative represented no shift in the industry's basic philosophy.

"Our principles haven't changed, but we are looking at a different situation today," he said. "There's an opportunity now to get a health bill passed that doesn't provide for government control of healthcare. We are participating as fully as we can now because we see an economic and moral imperative to do something when so many millions of people don't have access to healthcare."


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The prescription for PhRMA's partisan activities has changed recently along with the political landscape.

In 2005 and 2006, during Tauzin's first two years at PhRMA, just a third of the industry's $19.5 million in campaign donations went to Democrats. Tauzin came into the organization, he said, determined to make it more bipartisan and more generally appealing to the public.

This year, for the first time in two decades, Democrats have so far picked up more of the industry's campaign cash -- 54% -- than Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And PhRMA, a reliable backer of conservative candidates and causes in the past, has shifted allegiance in other ways, including joining labor leaders in a high-priced ad campaign to build grass-roots support for Obama's health plan.

Besides the new "Harry and Louise" ads, the industry is underwriting commercials that praise potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbents.

Other things haven't changed, including the industry's unrivaled investment in lobbying.

In just the last four months, the industry has spent $68 million on lobbying in Washington, assuring its continued standing atop the nation's lobbyist spending list.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a champion of importing drugs from Canada and reducing the cost of pharmaceuticals, professes continued suspicion of the industry, including its deals with the White House.

"The drug companies form the most powerful lobby in Washington," he said. "They never lose."

tom.hamburger@latimes.com