The bar at the Waldorf Astoria in New York was buzzing last week about an unusual political fundraiser with a prominent New York liberal Democrat that the Biotech Industry Organization organized in conjunction with its annual CEO and Investor Conference. But the $1,000-a-plate breakfast wasn't with the state's new junior senator or her husband; it benefited someone who may be in a position to be much more important to the industry - Charles Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Given the Republicans' razor-thin majority in the House and the uncertain prospects for retaining it in 2002, Democrats such as Rangel are important. Ways and Means will craft and determine the fate of any tax or Medicare reform legislation enacted by the House in the 107th Congress. Committee chair Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) is already well known to BIO CEOs - the organization named him one of its "legislators of the year" in 2000, and Thomas garnered more than $150,000 in campaign contributions in the last election cycle from biotech and pharmaceutical companies.