The loony left takes over

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple voted for change and they voted for Democrats to take our coun­try in a new di­rec­tion,” said a tri­umphant Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat poised to be­come speaker of the House. This might turn out to be a case of be­ing care­ful what you wish for, lest it come true.

Not only is Mrs. Pelosi her­self rad­i­cal, but many of the pow­er­ful Demo­cratic com­mit­tee chair­menin-wait­ing are mem­bers in good stand­ing of what long-time, bi­par­ti­san pres­i­den­tial ad­viser David Ger­gen has called the “loony left.”

Much of Amer­i­can com­merce that de­pends on in­no­va­tive science and tech­nol­ogy will likely suf­fer in the new regime. From my days as an of­fi­cial at the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion dur­ing the ‘80s and early ‘90s when the Democrats were in the con­gres­sional ma­jor­ity, I re­call the in­ces­sant, un­in­formed and highly politi­cized med­dling by prom­i­nent mem­bers of Congress. They did in­cal­cu­la­ble dam­age to science and tech­nol­ogy and their reg­u­la­tion. And they’re A few ex­am­ples: In 1989, Sen. Pa­trick Leahy,

baaack.

Ver­mont Demo­crat, then-chair­man of the Se­nate Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee, com­plained to the FDA com­mis­sioner about the agency’s sup­pos­edly too-cava­lier, in­suf­fi­ciently rig­or­ous re­view of an im­por­tant vet­eri­nary drug called bovine so­ma­totropin, or bST, which boosts the milk pro­duc­tion of dairy cows. Soon there­after, he and other mem­bers of Congress asked the Gen­eral Ac­count­ing Of­fice to con­duct a study of the agency’s bST re­view process. Mr. Leahy even ex­pressed con­cern that it would be so ef­fec­tive that it could chal­lenge the fed­eral price sup­port sys­tem.

Rep. John Cony­ers, Michi­gan Demo­crat, then-chair­man of the House Gov­ern­ment Op­er­a­tions Com­mit­tee, joined with Mr. Leahy to pres­sure the FDA not to ap­prove bST, rais­ing sci­en­tif­i­cally im­plau­si­ble con­cerns about the prod­uct’s safety.

All th­ese con­cerns about bST were base­less. The drug un­der­went one of the most lengthy and com­pre­hen­sive reg­u­la­tory re­views in his­tory. Used widely, suc­cess­fully and safely for two decades, it markedly in­creases pro­duc­tiv­ity: Farm­ers can pro­duce the same amount of milk with fewer cows and milk­ing ma­chines, less barn space and fewer vet­eri­nar­ian vis­its, vac­cines and so on. But Mr. Cony­ers has con­tin­ued his mind­less cru­sade, en­dors­ing an an­tibST book as re­cently as this year.

Largely as a re­sult of the mis­guided ef­forts and bul­ly­ing of Messrs. Leahy and Cony­ers — and reg­u­la­tors’ fear of the two pow­er­ful con­gress­men — the FDA’s re­view of this ex­cel­lent vet­eri­nary drug took nine years, while the eval­u­a­tion of an al­most iden­ti­cal prod­uct for in­jec­tion into growth hor­mone-de­fi­cient chil­dren took a mere 18 months.

Mr. Leahy is now slated to be­come the chair­man of the pow­er­ful Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, while Mr. Cony­ers is ex­pected to chair the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

Dur­ing the 1980s, Rep. John Din­gell, Michi­gan Demo­crat, then-chair­man of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, in­ter­fered con­stantly in fed­eral agen­cies’ do­mes­tic pol­i­cy­mak­ing and at­tempts to ham­mer out in­ter­na­tional agree­ments on the reg­u­la­tion of agri­cul­tural biotech­nol­ogy un­der the aus­pices of the Paris-based Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (OECD).

Mr. Din­gell and his com­mit­tee’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors ha­rassed sci­en­tists from var­i­ous reg­u­la­tory agen­cies (of whom I was one), while lack­ing any un­der­stand­ing of the sub­ject area and, in fact, lob­by­ing against both a sound sci­en­tific approach and U.S. in­ter­ests.

In car­ry­ing out the com­mit­tee’s over­sight role over the FDA, the im­pe­ri­ous Mr. Din­gell acted as a kind of self-ap­pointed Grand In­quisi­tor. He and his staff con­tin­u­ally sum­moned agency of­fi­cials to hu­mil­i­at­ing and abu­sive hear­ings and de­manded that they pro­duce moun­tains of doc­u­ments on un­re­al­is­ti­cally short dead­lines. Com­mit­tee staffers even ap­peared per­son­ally and unan­nounced at FDA head­quar­ters and helped them­selves to doc­u­ments that the agency (and fed­eral law) con­sid­ered to con­fi­den­tial busi­ness in­for­ma­tion and, there­fore, off-lim­its.

Most de­plorable of all was Mr. Din­gell’s McCarthy-es­que prac­tice of un­fairly im­pugn­ing in­di­vid­u­als dur­ing puni­tive hear­ings. He man­aged to bring down two em­i­nent univer­sity heads — David Bal­ti­more of Rock­e­feller Univer­sity and Don­ald Kennedy of Stan­ford — who, though even­tu­ally cleared of any wrong­do­ing, lost their pres­i­den­cies.

Mr. Din­gell will re­turn as the chair­man of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, which will again put him in charge of FDA over­sight. An oc­to­ge­nar­ian now, he has lost much of his vigor and men­tal acu­ity but none of his mal­ice.

A col­league of mine, a highly re­spected po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist (and a Demo­crat), pre­dicts the new con­gres­sional lead­er­ship will avoid “wild-eyed, crazy stuff,” in or­der not to alien­ate the po­lit­i­cal cen­ter. He’s prob­a­bly right about such high-profile ac­tions as im­peach­ment of Pres­i­dent Bush or re­peal of the Pa­triot Act, but I sus­pect most of the Congress’ day-to-day leg­isla­tive and over­sight work — the vast ma­jor­ity of it out of pub­lic view — will re­sem­ble the bad old days.

Mark Twain had it right: “Sup­pose you were an id­iot and sup­pose you were a mem­ber of Congress. But I re­peat my­self.”

Henry I. Miller, a physi­cian and fel­low at Stan­ford Univer­sity’s Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, was an of­fi­cial at the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion from 1979 to 1994. Bar­ron’s se­lected his most re­cent book, “The Franken­food Myth,” as one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.

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