Remembering Josh Bolten

Josh Bolten is one of the most powerful officials in Washington,, DC, but he is also among the most secretive. These are a couple of notes in areas where I have seen his work.

In 2001, President Bush's top trade official, Bob Zoellick, sent a message that he would not be an uncritical backer of the trade agenda of Pfizer and other big drug companies. He recommended Bush keep a Clinton Executive Order (EO 13155) that protected Africa from trade pressures involving patents on medicines for AIDS, and he was constructive in the negotiations on an important 2001 agreement on patents and medicines (the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health). Public health groups were pleasantly surprised.

But by the Spring of 2002, USTR chief Zoellick became large irrelevant on these issues, as CEOs of big companies forged close ties with three officials in the White House -- Karl Rove, Josh Bolten and Gary Edson. Bolten and Edson had worked together at the USTR during George W.'s father's presidency, along with Daniel Price, who became a key lobbyist on trade issues, representing pharmaceutical companies.

Working closely with the drug company CEOs and lobbyists working for Daniel Price, Rove, Bolten, Edson put enormous pressure on the USTR professional negotiators to take a hard line on the negotiations to a follow-up agreement involving the rules for exporting generic medicines manufactured under a compulsory license. Pfizer and other big pharma companies knew they were going to have to give some ground on patents for AIDS drugs, but they wanted any new agreement to be limited to a handful of diseases, and to create complicated procedures that would discourage its use.

By the end of 2002, right before Christmas, the US government was isolated in the negotiations --- to the point where the Vatican reminded the US negotiators that promises the poor "must be keep."

Bolten refused several requests to meet with public health groups to discuss the White House opposition to WTO measures that would protect public health interests. Later he left the White House to run OMB. During his OMB term Bolten effectively ended work on several issues that his predecessor, Mitch Daniels (now Republican governor of Indiana), had pursued.

Ralph Nader and I had asked OMB to put the full text of federal contracts on the Internet, to use federal procurement policy to force Microsoft to use standardized file formats for documents, and to use cost benefit analysis on the war on terror. Mitch Daniels, a hard-headed conservative, had pushed forward on each of these three issues. But after Daniels left, Bolten stopped work on all three issues, and refused numerous requests by Ralph and myself for meetings on these topics.