Former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton touched on numerous subjects during her 65 minute visit to San Diego last Wednesday, but was coy about whether she plans to run for president. Clinton touched on issues ranging from reducing invest risk and corporate taxes to empowering women to take leadership positions in the sciences and other industries.
On Reducing Investment risks
One major concern of the U.S. biotech industry is risk on investment. Clinton used the example of a biomedical company that doesn’t get through clinical trials or doesn’t get approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
“You’ve got sunk costs, which could mean the end of your business, but you still have expertise that might be useful,” she said.
Clinton said she would support forming a national committee of science leaders and regulators to create a kind of “insurance policy” to reduce this risk. She also encouraged the states to take the lead on this issue.
“If Washington is not welcoming to this kind of effort, maybe it could be put together by the states that are the leaders in hosting biotech companies,” she said, citing California funding stem cell research when the federal government would not.
“States have a role to play, but we need a national framework,” she added.
Foreign funding and tax incentives
Asked by Greenwood, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, what she thinks about the way foreign countries lure scientists and biotech companies with capital and tax breaks, Clinton said she thinks U.S. companies are going to see “more and more state capitalism coming from the other countries,” and the nation has to find a way to address the challenge.
“We will face competition that is state-based and underwritten, and that poses a new set of problems,” she said.
The issue is not just the tax system, but “real subsidization for risky enterprises,” Clinton said.
“Is there any way for our system to imbed some kind of foundational assurance against risk that could be affordable and available?” Clinton asked.
There should be “intensive discussions” on this topic in Washington, she said, but if federal officials won’t do that, she suggested that the leaders of states “that are hosting biotech companies” might put proposals together.
“States have a role to play but we need a national framework,” she added.
“Clearly we have to rationalize our tax system,” she said. “I don’t like companies moving out of our country because they see some advantage elsewhere.”
Regulatory slowness in the drug field needs to be addressed also, said Clinton, who attempted to write a health care reform plan when she was in the White House as the wife of President Bill Clinton.
Greenwood did not ask Clinton to take a stand on the labeling of foods with ingredients derived from biotech crops, and she did not.
He told Clinton that a label reading “genetically modified” doesn’t give the consumer “any useful information” and then added, “You don’t need to answer that.”
Greenwood also told Clinton that he thinks organic farmers and food businesses are funding the efforts to require labeling because they want consumers to choose their products instead.
Clinton did not respond directly to that statement but said “the question of genetically modified food or hybrids has gone on for many, many years” and there is a “big gap” between the facts and perceptions in that debate.
Clinton acknowledged that gaining acceptance for biotechnology “is painstaking” because proponents have to work both from the top down with presidents and prime ministers and from the bottom up with smallholder farmers.
There have been proposals to link foreign aid to those countries writing laws accepting biotechnology, but Clinton said she thinks such efforts would backfire.
Greenwood also noted that BIO members produce biofuels, which they think are a critical part of the answer to the greenhouse gas problem, but some people oppose biofuels and think the concern about greenhouse gases is a hoax.
Women in politics
Rather than ask Clinton directly if she would run for president, Greenwood observed that when she ran for president the first time — for president of her high school class in 1965 — she lost, and the boy who won said that a girl would never be president.
She was elected class president at Wellesley, which Clinton then pointed out was a women’s college.
Out of these experiences, and apparently her losing presidential campaign in 2008, Clinton said she has adopted two sayings from Eleanor Roosevelt.
One is “If you are a woman who wants to be in the public arena you have to grow skin as thick as the hide of a rhinoceros.” The other is “You never know how strong a woman she is. She is like a tea bag. You will see it when she is in hot water.”
Woman are subject to double scrutiny, Clinton said, for both the policy positions they take and how their hair, makeup and clothes look. And women might still believe they are not good enough and “have a perfectionist gene, “she said.
Young women she has promoted ask “do you think I can do the job?,” while young men ask “what took you so long?”
Clinton ended her comments by noting that a biotech company owner had told her that day at a book signing in nearby La Jolla, Calif. that there aren’t enough women in biotech. Clinton said she promised her that she would make that statement at the meeting and added, “I think we can all do better.”