Familiar Players in Health Bill Lobbying
Firms Are Enlisting Ex-Lawmakers, Aides
Monday, July 6, 2009
The nation's largest insurers, hospitals and medical groups have hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress in hopes of influencing their old bosses and colleagues, according to an analysis of lobbying disclosures and other records.
The tactic is so widespread that three of every four major health-care firms have at least one former insider on their lobbying payrolls, according to The Washington Post's analysis.
Nearly half of the insiders previously worked for the key committees and lawmakers, including Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), debating whether to adopt a public insurance option opposed by major industry groups. At least 10 others have been members of Congress, such as former House majority leaders Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) and Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), both of whom represent a New Jersey pharmaceutical firm.
The hirings are part of a record-breaking influence campaign by the health-care industry, which is spending more than $1.4 million a day on lobbying in the current fight, according to disclosure records. And even in a city where lobbying is a part of life, the scale of the effort has drawn attention. For example, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) doubled its spending to nearly $7 million in the first quarter of 2009, followed by Pfizer, with more than $6 million.
The push has reunited many who worked together in government on health-care reform, but are now employed as advocates for pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
A June 10 meeting between aides to Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and health-care lobbyists included two former Baucus chiefs of staff: David Castagnetti, whose clients include PhRMA and America's Health Insurance Plans, and Jeffrey A. Forbes, who represents PhRMA, Amgen, Genentech, Merck and others. Castagnetti did not return a telephone call; Forbes declined to comment.
Also inside the closed committee hearing room that day was Richard Tarplin, a veteran of both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Senate, where he worked for Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), one of the leaders in fashioning reform legislation this year. Tarplin now represents the American Medical Association as head of his own lobbying firm, Tarplin Strategies.
"For people like me who are on the outside and used to be on the inside, this is great, because there is a level of trust in these relationships, and I know the policy rationale that is required," Tarplin said in explaining the benefits of having government experience.
But public interest groups and reform advocates complain that the concentration of former government aides on K Street has distorted the health-care debate, and that it further illustrates the problem posed by the "revolving door" between government and private firms.
"The revolving door offers a short cut to a member of Congress to the highest bidder," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiled some of the data used in The Post's analysis. "It's a small cost of doing business relative to the profits they can garner."
Aides to Baucus and other lawmakers bristle at any suggestion of special treatment for former staff members. Baucus spokesman Scott Mulhauser said the senator "remains committed to working with a variety of stakeholders" as the Finance Committee attempts to come up with a bill this summer.
"The senator and his staff meet daily with individuals, nonprofits and interests from across the health-care spectrum, and are proud that all interests are treated equally and that no one receives special treatment of any kind," Mulhauser said. "As a result, the Finance Committee has been praised by members of Congress and the media for its uniquely inclusive and transparent health-care reform process."
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