What with the future of health care reform being shaped in both the House and Senate this week (not to mention the other big ticket issues, like overhauling the financial regulatory system) one might be tempted to believe that members of Congress are laser-focused on legislating before they leave for the summer recess. It might even make sense to assume that they laid off the fundraising game for a little while, or at least that they're rejecting checks from the lobbyists who are wearing grooves in the marble floors outside the committee rooms where health care legislation is being written.
But such quaint notions never really caught hold inside the Beltway. (Or outside the Beltway, for that matter.) The turning point of a policy debate is also the most effective time to hit up lobbyists and their clients for campaign cash. Squeeze ‘em while they need you and they can’t say no. Mind you, there’s no quid pro quo, no dollars for votes. Just honest, free-ranging political debates. They’ll listen to anyone who can pay the $1,000 cover.
The cascade of health care dollars just keeps rolling.
This from Dan Eggen at the Washington Post today: Blue Dog Democrat Mike Ross – whose complaints put the brakes on the House health bill this month – has become insurance companies’ go-to guy.
On June 19, Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas made clear that he and a group of other conservative Democrats known as the Blue Dogs were increasingly unhappy with the direction that health-care legislation was taking in the House.
"The committees' draft falls short," the former pharmacy owner said in a statement that day, citing, among other things, provisions that major health-care companies also strongly oppose.
Five days later, Ross was the guest of honor at a special "health-care industry reception," one of at least seven fundraisers for the Arkansas lawmaker held by health-care companies or their lobbyists this year, according to publicly available invitations.
The roiling debate about health-care reform has been a boon to the political fortunes of Ross and 51 other members of the Blue Dog Coalition, who have become key brokers in shaping legislation in the House. Objections from the group resulted in a compromise bill announced this week that includes higher payments for rural providers and softens a public insurance option that industry groups object to. The deal also would allow states to set up nonprofit cooperatives to offer coverage, a Republican-generated idea that insurers favor as an alternative to a public insurance option.
Consumer Watchdog’s analysis last month found Blue Dogs took $1.7 million from health insurers and drug companies since 2005.
That report came on the heels of our investigation into Senators’ health insurer bucks. Chief Senate negotiator Max Baucus, who announced yesterday that he still won't let a bill out of his committee, raked in more since 2005 than any other Senate colleague barring John McCain (who had a presidential bid to thank for his fundraising prowess).
Baucus probably landed back in Montana this morning for the big fundraiser he has planned this weekend: "Camp Baucus" offers donors and "the whole family" the chance to "enjoy Big Sky's fly fishing, golf, horseback riding and great hiking." (The invitation courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation.)
The flow of health care cash hasn’t gone unnoticed in Baucus’ home state, where the local Montana Standard put it all in perspective:
From 2003-2008, the Baucus campaign and his Glacier PAC, which raises money and distributes it to other candidates, received 23 percent of their $14.8 million from health-care and insurance interests.
The Standard called out Baucus’ Finance Committee Republican counterpart, Senator Chuck Grassley, as well:
Grassley, the highest-ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, received 23.5 percent of his funds from health and insurance interests, but a lesser dollar amount than Baucus ($2.3 million out of $9.8 million total funds).
No one can be confident that money isn’t driving the debate if members of Congress can’t even lay off taking campaign cash from the health care industry while facing the biggest decisions on health care they'll have a chance to make in their lifetimes.
And, in the midst of the money-grubbing, a hearing on legislation to change all that was building momentum: the Fair Elections Now Act to enact voluntary public financing of House campaigns. (Read Consumer Watchdog's letter of support.) I couldn't get in because the hearing room was packed yesterday, but more here from the Washington Independent on business leaders' ad supporting the bill in yesterday's Roll Call. Some people are tired of the shakedown.