It is a popular theory among many Americans that government — especially the federal government — plays too large a role in our lives and that if only taxes would be significantly reduced our lives would be much better.
This theory has become an integral part of Republican Party political doctrine and it is vigorously advanced by an influential Washington lobbyist named Grover Norquist who has sought, with remarkable success, to persuade members of Congress to sign a pledge to never, ever raise taxes, no matter what.
That any elected politician would sign the pledge — which is not part of any oath of office — is absurd on its face, but in doing so those who subscribe to Norquist’s argument endear themselves to the ultra-conservatives who have become so active in American politics of late. They howl about too many federal regulations impeding the pursuit of profit in the private sector.
Granted, not every federal regulation may withstand careful, critical scrutiny, but surely those that are designed to protect the health of the American people should be zealously protected.
So what do these anti-tax voters think about the fact that the federal government, the government they distrust and so often detest, doesn’t even have enough authority to supervise the laboratories that produce the medicine that is blamed for the frightening outbreak of meningitis in this country?
“The Food and Drug Administration has more regulatory authority over a drug factory in China than over a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts,” Kevin Outterson, an associate professor of law at Boston University, complained to The New York Times recently.
The compounding pharmacy he referred to is being blamed for the meningitis menace that so far has taken the lives of seven Americans and made many more ill. Thousands of other patients are potentially exposed to the illness because of the drugs they’ve taken. These unfortunates surely never dreamed that their federal government wasn’t there to protect them.
But the truth is the FDA has no authority to oversee the operations at The New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. Absent any such federal oversight, the business somehow managed to produce and distribute, legally, a medicine that appears to have lethal consequences.
“This wasn’t some obscure procedure being done in some obscure hospital,” Tom Carroll, a lawyer and close friend of one who died because he took this drug, told The Times. “They had sought out a respected neurosurgeon who had been referred by their family doctor, at a respected hospital. How does this happen?”
Here’s how the newspaper explained the problem: “… Some doctors and clinics have turned away from major drug manufacturers and have taken their business to so-called compounding pharmacies, like New England Compounding, which mix up batches of drugs on their own, often for much lower prices than major manufacturers charge — and with little of the federal oversight of drug safety and quality that is routine for the big companies.”
To be fair, The Times also points out that “many compounding pharmacies perform well, producing formulations of drugs for specialized needs.” But how is the average citizen to know whether his doctor or clinic is relying on one of the well-performing compounding pharmacies? That question wouldn’t even arise if the proper federal regulations were in place.
To its numerous critics and political opportunists, to apply such regulations would mean that their government would be sticking its nose into (and thereby impeding) a private business. However, isn’t that exactly what the federal government should be doing, in the interest of protecting the American people?