Susan Walsh  /  AP file
House Energy Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., in a Sept. 3 file photo
updated 2/3/2004 8:52:24 PM ET 2004-02-04T01:52:24

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., resigned Tuesday as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the most powerful positions in Congress, and announced he will not seek re-election in the fall.

Tauzin’s desire to leave Congress has been widely speculated for months as his name has surfaced as a potential head of lobbying groups of both the pharmaceutical and motion picture industries.

He was instrumental in engineering passage of the new Medicare prescription drug law passed by Congress in December. He also has been deeply involved in energy and telecommunications legislation.

The 12-term Republican congressman from Louisiana hand-delivered his resignation letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., on Tuesday, effective Feb. 16, said Ken Johnson, Tauzin’s spokesman.

Tauzin, 60, also will not seek re-election in the fall, said Johnson.

Business opportunities beckon
Johnson said that Tauzin has made no decision on what he would do next.

Tauzin’s name repeatedly has surfaced as the top contender to head the lobbying operation of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, which represents big drug manufacturers such as Eli Lilly and Co. and Merck & Co.

Recently Tauzin said he was no longer interested in replacing 82-year-old Jack Valenti as president of the Motion Picture Association of America. But he was said to be seriously considering the pharmaceutical industry job.

Both potential jobs had raised eyebrows because Tauzin’s committee has been so deeply involved in crafting legislation involving drug benefits and the telecommunications industry.

Common Cause, a private watchdog group, has raised concern about Tauzin’s negotiating for such jobs while still chairman of one of the most powerful committees in the House and one that deals with legislation affecting those industries.

“It doesn’t look good,” Common Cause spokesman Mary Boyle said recently.

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Johnson has said that Tauzin has agreed to step aside from any committee matters involving the pharmaceutical lobby.

“Absolutely no one in the leadership, not a single person, asked him to step down as chairman,” said Johnson.

Change of gears
In his letter to Hastert, Tauzin said his hospitalization in December for a bleeding ulcer “has reminded me of how precious time and life are. ... I need to be free to focus on whatever future awaits me and my family.”

Tauzin was first elected to the House in 1980 as a Democrat. He switched to the Republican Party in 1995, seven months after the GOP took control of the House.

A colorful legislator with a knack for working with both Republicans and Democrats, six years later Tauzin was given the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he guided through the Medicare legislation earlier this year including prescription drug benefits for the elderly that forbids the government from negotiating lower prices from drug companies.

Johnson said Tauzin has not decided whether he will leave Congress before the end of his term or whether he will take another job.

In his letter, Tauzin said he was stepping down as committee chairman to allow a smoother transition.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said Tuesday he would seek the job and had met with Hastert on Tuesday night to discuss his future. Barton is chairman of the Commerce energy and air quality subcommittee.

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