Jake Williams

Jake Williams
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I'm a writer and part-time teacher, caught in that weird expanse between an MA and an attempt at a PhD.

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SEPTEMBER 15, 2009 3:17AM

More Democrats Paid to Abandon Public Option

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I recently wrote about Democratic complicity in watering down health care reform proposals and the attempted excising of the public option. Since then more damning evidence has come to light, further implicating the party that was voted into power to, in part, reform the corrupt practice of health coverage in America.

Arguably the most significant news concerns Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, a once-upon-a-time proponent of the public option, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Pelosi had previously promised that no bill would make it out of the House if it didn’t include a government-provided option. But that was apparently before she remembered that she had to run for reelection. David Sirota reports that “Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ’said they would support any provision that increases competition and accessibility for health insurance – whether or not it is the public option favored by most Democrats.’ When ‘asked if inclusion of a public option was a non-negotiable demand – as her previous statements had indicated Pelosi ruled out any non-negotiable positions,’ according to CNN.”

Why the sudden change of heart? Sirota writes, “this announcement came just hours before Steve Elmendorf, a registered UnitedHealth lobbyist and the head of UnitedHealth’s lobbying firm Elmendorf Strategies, blasted [an] email invitation throughout Washington, D.C. The sequencing here is important: Pelosi makes her announcement and then just hours later, the fundraising invitation goes out. Coincidental? I’m guessing no – these things rarely ever are.”

Here is what this “health” lobbyist fundraiser will entail, as reported by CBS:

The two-day “issues conference” starts next Friday night with a dinner for roughly 170 guests on the back lawn of Pelosi’s multimillion-dollar home in the fashionable Pacific Heights neighborhood in San Francisco.

The following day, Pelosi will shepherd her guests to a Napa Valley winery with buildings designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry; the speaker and her husband, investor Paul Pelosi, own a nearby vineyard worth between $5 million and $25 million, according to her annual financial disclosure report.

Apparently her and her family’s medical bills haven’t interfered with their lifestyle. Lucky her. Harry Reid, never the epitome of principled stances, has accepted $106,700 from health services and HMOs and another $135,050 from pharmaceuticals and health product companies to help him keep his seat in the Senate. Reid and Pelosi aren’t alone in their remarkable ability to wrangle Johns in from the very same corrupt, unscrupulous and selfish industries that they’re supposed to be regulating and fixing. See Eliot Spitzer.

News also broke this past weekend concerning a drug industry lobbying group, PhRMA, and its relationship to Democrat Max Baucus. First, make sure that you read how overtly corrupted Baucus is on this issue. To give you an idea of how antithetical PhRMA is to passing truly respectable and effective health care reform, note that they are “opposed to any pharmaceutical price controls, which would allow the government to regulate the cost of drugs.” Enjoy paying $3 a day for your cholesterol meds? Thank them, and all the lobbying groups that are just as greedy and amoral.

Why are they relevant? For starters, they’ve spent more than $13 million in lobbying just in the first half of 2009. And now, led by former Republican representative Billy Tauzin, they’ve “set aside $150 million” for advertisements supporting Baucus’ insurance-friendly bill that requires all Americans to purchase private insurance and lacks a public option. Much to the chagrin of Baucus and PhRMA, however, Henry Waxman amended the legislation to allow for negotiation of lower drug prices. Did the Obama White House and his cohorts in Congress thank Waxman for standing up for the public’s health and financial interests and for doing the ethical, just thing? No. Matt Taibbi, as always, perfectly explains how offensive the response actually was:

First of all, PhRMA started paying its bribe.

The $150 million it committed to support Obama’s bill is now being rolled out in pro-reform ads, which are being aired mostly in the districts of freshman congressmen. The ads are cheesy, half-hearted tripe blandly supporting the weak-as-fuck remnants of Obama’s health care plan, an example being this “Eight Ways Health Reform Matters To You” ad that salutes the end of coverage denials for those with pre-existing conditions.

Now we’re also seeing pressure from a group of freshmen and Blue Dogs, who have composed a letter to a quartet of House Committee chairs requesting that the Waxman language be removed from the health care bill and replaced with the PhRMA language, which happens to be the language the White House is pushing and which will appear in the Baucus bill in the Senate. The pro-PhRMA language retains the preposterous government subsidy to the pharmaceutical industry in the form of laws banning Medicare from negotiating market rates. It is completely useless and of no possible social benefit to anyone except pharmaceutical companies, but this group still managed to get 60 people to sign this letter.

What does this letter say? Does it argue that the PhRMA language is better for America than the Waxman language? Does it say it will cost taxpayers less and provide cheaper drugs to more people? Hilariously, no. What it says is that this PhRMA language, while worse than the Waxman language, is not quite so bad as you think (it doesn’t save as much as the Waxman language, but it still has a 50 percent price reduction, which isn’t terrible!). Moreover, the letter says, substituting this language will help the bill get passed! Here’s the actual language, addressed primarily to Waxman:

“Your efforts to remove this onerous burden on Medicare beneficiaries… are to be greatly commended. However the commitment by President Obama and the AARP to support legislation that would provide a 50 percent reduction is a dramatic step forward in helping fill the doughnut hole. Equally important, it moves us toward our goal of health care legislation.”

In other words, your attempt to put in a real reform is cool and all, but PhRMA has us by the balls, so help us out.

Interestingly, the congressmen who wrote the bill — former NFL bust Heath Shuler and Illinois Democrat Debbie Halvorson — did not post the letter on their web sites, which is very unusual. One guesses that they are not particularly proud of this particular bit of shameless whoring.

Events like these, bribes such as these, are the reason that a GOP senator can go on TV and confidently tell the American people that “it’s clear to him that the White House is ready to abandon a government-run public health insurance option.”

These Democrats should be ashamed, too embarrassed and guilt-ridden to show themselves in public, let alone continue in their roles as national legislators. Except that people like them, people who are so self-serving, so easily swayed from an obviously righteous path, are incapable of guilt, incapable of embarrassment and shame. Despite the enormous power that these individuals wield, despite their role in approving federal judges and Supreme Court Justices, it is extraordinarily rare that they are given an opportunity such as this. It is an opportunity to dramatically improve the lives of millions upon millions of Americans, to give people who will be ruined by debt or debilitated by disease and injury a chance to get their lives back. That’s the opportunity, the responsibility, that these elected officials have. And they’ve turned their back on it. And for what? Money. And in the case of Pelosi and Reid, they’re already millionaires. They already receive a government-funded health plan. They already make $170,00+ a year for part-time work.

Karl Krauss wrote, “Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter may endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of an entire country.” Spitzer was publically shamed for his transgressions. He lost his job. What punishment will Pelosi, Reid, and their shameless friends face? None. They have more than enough money now to buy their next terms in office. Their job is done.

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Comments

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You said it. Very frustrating. Did you see Wendell Potter testify? Stating: "if Congress "fails to create a public insurance option to compete with private insurers, the bill it sends to the president might as well be called the Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act." http://is.gd/3jHfW
I thought that was very telling. There was also this comment by Senator Landrieu about why she opposed the public option: “Many of us believe that it will undermine the private insurance system.” She received $200,698 from the insurance industry and $125,250 from pharmaceutical companies.
Ah yes, Nacy Pelosi.

http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cid=N00007360
Actually this is better

http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/select.php?ind=H03
Those are great links. Open Secrets is incredibly useful, and incredibly depressing.
Yes it's informative and flexible. Looking at presidential or congressional candidates. By industry, orgs, individuals. More people should know who's giving money to their representatives.
It's just disgusting. I sometimes wonder whether you would be better off leaving issues like healthcare entirely to the states. At least there's less money sloshing around in local elections, so the chances of actually getting politicians who give a damn should be better.
Norwonk,

That's one of the reasons that the Kucinich Amendment was so important. It would allow individual states to adopt a single-payer system if their legislatures approved one