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Clear air on ‘Sen. Anonymous’

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Questions linger.

While he doesn't come right out and say it, Sen. Orrin Hatch is wondering if someone orchestrated recent events to make it appear he was doing favors for pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough, which has helped him financially. Even "Roll Call," the Capitol Hill newspaper that broke the story on a draft bill being circulated anonymously to extend the patent on Schering-Plough's allergy medicine Claritin, editorialized that it was confused as to whether Hatch authorized the drafting of the legislation.

Whatever the case, there needs to be an accounting of what has transpired.

The bill would generate billions for the company by preventing generic drug companies from offering inexpensive copies, and it has the potential to harm consumers by keeping prices for the medicine high. If it was indeed circulated by a political enemy, Hatch needs to smoke the enemy out.

If the bill was drafted and circulated by a member of Hatch's own staff, it's equally problematic. At the very least, there has been a failure to communicate.

Given that Schering-Plough offered Hatch the use of a company jet at reduced rates while he campaigned and had contributed to both his presidential and Senate bids, he could only expect that any legislation — draft or otherwise — would be subject to intense scrutiny by the press and public. Knowing this, it is unclear why Hatch did not expressly instruct his own staff and the Judiciary Committee staff to brief him on any movement even remotely related to the Claritin patent extension. That said, Hatch is not alone. He is among several senators who have received political contributions from Schering-Plough.

As it turned out, someone tried to attach the patent extension onto the military construction legislation — a move Senate Democrats decried as an end-run on the customary hearing process. Said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., "This is about, I think, the fourth time in as many years we've seen some form of the Claritin bill — never being exposed to the light of day, but always an attempt to tuck it into a catchall spending bill."

Hatch has steadfastly denied it was him.

This episode is troubling because it sheds light on a larger problem — that the process enables senators to float trial balloons yet hide behind the cloak of secrecy. Worse yet, it apparently allows Senate staff to do the same, and apparently without a senator's consent or knowledge.

Hatch calls the ordeal "a tempest in a teaspoon." Keeping with the Shakespeare parlance, it may well be much ado about nothing. But because this is an election year, Hatch and his colleagues in the Senate would do well to clear the air on this matter before November.