HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi flashed some mighty sharp fangs last week at the insurance industry. The industry, along with drug companies, hospitals, and medical associations, is trying to torpedo government insurance options to insure all Americans. Saying the industry is conducting a “shock-and-awe carpet bombing’’ to “perpetuate the status quo,’’ she went so far as to say the insurance companies “are the villains in this,’’ with their “exorbitant profits.’’ She charged, “they have been immoral all along how they have treated the people that they insure.’’
But considering insurers’ campaign contributions to Democrats, including Pelosi, who is actually going to bite the health industry in the leg on behalf of the American people? Is it really going to be Pelosi? Senate majority leader Harry Reid? President Obama?
We already know that the Republicans and conservative Democrats, known as the “Blue Dogs,’’ are dead-set defenders of a status quo where 46 million Americans are uninsured. They were the first to be bought off by the $263 million in lobbying by the health sector this year, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
But will other Democrats be slowly picked off, and allow reform to be picked apart into irrelevance in the coming weeks, given that the party long ago took single-payer off the table?
Back In the 2008 election, the health sector contributed nearly $20 million to Obama’s campaign, more than twice the amount it gave to Republican John McCain. But now that the issue has come to the fore, the political action committees of the top five contributors in 2008 – the American Dental Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, Pfizer, and the American Society of Anesthesiologists – have all given thousands of dollars to the Blue Dog PAC.
The health industry has more than enough PAC and campaign contribution cash to shower Democrats of all stripes. At this moment, the top nine recipients of campaign cash from the health sector in the 2010 election cycle are all Democrats, led by the $467,000 for Reid and including $126,000 for House majority leader Steny Hoyer and $125,000 for Pelosi. Reid and Pelosi are also the top PAC recipients from the health sector, with Hoyer coming in fourth.
The Democrats, of course, deny that any money will sway their opinions. Pelosi’s spokesman, Brendan Daly, was quoted last week by Congressional Quarterly: “As the speaker’s opposition to the health insurance companies being in charge of Americans’ health care shows, there is no link between political contributions and positions on policy.’’
Only time will tell if Pelosi or some other Democrat will be a weak link. While Congressional Quarterly reported that Pelosi’s contributions specifically from health insurers were relatively small, the medical biotech firm Amgen was the second-leading giver to her campaign committee and leadership PAC in the 2008 election cycle. Amgen has been lobbying with the other major pharmaceutical companies – so far successfully – to make sure that any reform of healthcare does not force them to lower their costs or compete with Canadian imports.
In no surprise, Amgen’s PAC also gave to the Blue Dog PAC in the 2008 cycle. It spent $6.1 million in the first half of this year lobbying on Capitol Hill, bettered only by the $13 million of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Council, the $11.7 million of Pfizer, and the $7 million of Eli Lilly. The political action committees of all those other companies or trade groups have given to the Blue Dogs.
Thus, the Democratic leadership must be watched carefully over the next several weeks. Despite the carpet-bombing of lobbying, Americans themselves are not yet completely brainwashed against a more sane healthcare system. A Time poll shows that 63 percent of Americans still favor healthcare coverage for all Americans, even if the government needs to subsidize it for those who cannot afford it, and 80 percent say people should be covered regardless of pre-existing conditions. The majority of Americans want Pelosi, Congress, and Obama not just to bare their political teeth, but to chomp down hard on the forces that put profit before coverage. To borrow from Pelosi, anything less is immoral.
Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.