Arianna Huffington, of Huffington Post, may sound funny with her accent, but she is an astute observer of the political scene. Today she has an article headlined Lobbyists on a Roll: Gutting Reform on Banking, Energy and Health Care.
She sets out showing how lobbyists water-down, gut, or out-and-out kill ambitious plans for reforming Wall Street, energy, and health care.
She labels it âthere’s been a change in the plans for change.â
Being an active worker in Obamaâs Campaign for Change, still a supporter of President Obamaâs efforts, I donât like hearing about a change in plans for change. I remain an idealistic believer in the âYes, We Canâ motto.
But Iâm not so idealistic as to believe that change is going to happen just because I voted for President Obama and he won the election. I know enough about politics and how it works to understand that electing Obama was just the beginning step. We are now in the really difficult partâactually making the change happen we sought in last Novemberâs election.
Obama warned us that change wonât come easily and that we have to stick together and support his efforts. He sends out e-mails to us about keeping involved and engaging in community events and activities. Some of us do, many donât, having decided to return to hibernation.
Huffington tells us the killing and emasculation of the reforms (i.e., the change) are happening âcourtesy of a familiar nemesis: DC lobbyists.â
âThe media like to pretend that something’s at stake when a big bill is being debated on the House or Senate floor, but the truth is that by then the game is typically already over. The real fight happens long before. And the lobbyists usually win,â she wrote.
She is right. We, âthe people;â are always behind the curve. We tend to think everything is up to the President to see that reform and change takes place. Excusing ourselves from responsibility if he fails. However, we lose because we donât seem to understand that it is in Congress where reform and change is won or lost. It is Congress where reform and change is being systematically killedâby lobbyists, behind closed doors, in private meetings between Senators and Congressmen/women and lobbyists.
Iâve written many times about the fact that Congress is owned by corporate interests who daily, persistently, work on the Senators and members of the House of Representatives to see that their businesses are not adversely affected by legislation. Lobbyists are the corporate agents who keep people in Congress under their thumb.
âLook at the auto industry. For decades, Detroit and its lobbyists fought tooth and nail against efforts to improve mileage efficiency standards or to close tax loopholes favorable to gas-guzzling SUVs. They were very successful at holding off the future. Until they went bankrupt.â
It is like Howard Dean said on a Keith Olbermann show last week, and I paraphrase, âSenators look out for their interests when in Washington and forget about anyone out in the nation, outside Washington.â
We have a Republic, which, in theory means, we elect those Senators and Congressmen/women to represent us in Congressâthey are our lobbyists. But, that isnât working very well. As Huffington points out:
âgetting a reform bill that still includes actual reforms through both houses of Congress is easier said than done.â
For example, Huffington noted: The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, signed into law by the President last May. It âwas missing its centerpiece: a change in bankruptcy law he once championed that would have given judges the power to lower the amount owed on a home loan.â The New York Times reported, âIt had been stripped out three weeks earlier in a showdown between Senate Democrats and the nationâs banks, including many that are getting big government bailout.â
âIt shows just how powerful the lobbyists are: even those representing the banks that helped bring about the financial meltdown still hold sway over our elected officials,â Huffington wrote.
Credit rating agencies, who played a big part in causing the economic crisis, âescaped with barely a wrist slap in the Treasury’s big new reform plan.â Thanks to their lobbyists. [Wall Street Journal]
Quote Huffington writes, âThat’s the thing about lobbyists: they serve no ideological master. It’s not about right vs left or Democrats vs Republicans. It’s only about the bottom lineâie pushing their special interests, no matter how much it undermines the public interest. No wonder they are as likely to incur the wrath of the Wall Street Journal as Mother Jones.â [Emphasis added]
Corporate lobbyists are well financed.
Quote âLast year, 15,000 registered lobbyists spent more than $3.25 billion trying to sway Congress. This year has brought even more of the same. Oil and gas companies spent $44.5 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies in the first quarter of 2009 — more than a third of the $129 million they spent in all of 2008, which in itself was a 73 percent increase from two years before. Medical insurers and drug companies are also digging deep: 20 of the biggest health insurance and drug companies spent nearly a combined $35 million in Q1 — a 41 percent increase from the same quarter last year. [Emphasis added]
âAll that spending has proven to be money disturbingly well spent.â
Energy and climate change. Thanks to the coal lobby the âenergy bill currently winding its way through Congress, officially called the American Clean Energy and Security Act, is in danger of becoming considerably less, uh, clean.â Why? Because of Republicans in Congress? No, because of Democrats! [See: Big Coal Using Climate Change Bill to Roll Back Clean Air Act.
Huffington also asserts the Democrats âon the Homeland Security Committee are also killing a key provision in a chemical security bill.â [See: Latest Sellout: Dems Moving to Gut Chemical Security Bill, Risking Millions of Lives.] âDemocrats have apparently been cutting their deals with their industry-backed Republican colleagues,â wrote Art Levine.
âThe story is very familiar: new rules are announced proclaiming a better, safer system for the future. But then industry lobbyists howl about “loss of jobs,” and “decreased competitiveness,” so waivers are added. Then some exemptions. Then some loopholes. Then authority to enforce the new rules is limited. By the time the bill hits the floor, it’s still got the word “Reform” or “Clean” or “Safety” in the name, but the finished product is all about maintaining the status quo. And a very stubborn status quo it is,â writes Arianna.
The public option is under attack, of course. The American Medical Association (AMA) is against it, supporting private insurance companies. âSince the 2000 election cycle, its political action committee has contributed $9.8 million to Congressional candidates.â 56% of it went to Democrats. [New York Times]
Schering-Plough, member of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, which seems determined to slay the public option. Daschle, former Republican Senator Bob Dole, and Republican Howard Baker, founded Bipartisan Policy Center. Chris Jennings, a former Clinton Administration, is a co-director of BPC. Jenningsâ âresume also includes his role as president of Jennings Policy Strategies (JPS), a firm that, among other things, has earned millions of dollars in lobbying fees from companies with interests in the health care debate. Clients have included the Generic Pharmaceutical Association (which, since 2001, has paid at least $2 million), The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association ($450,000), and Actelion Pharmaceuticals ($320,000).â [See: Daschleâs Firm and Group Have Ties to Private Healthcare Industry]
Daschle and Dole are currently employed by Alston + Bird, a lobbying firm with âdozens of clients with a vested interest in undermining health care reform.â [See: Daschle, Dole Release Health Care Plan, Forget to Mention They Are Health Care Lobbyists]
Matthew Yglesias wrote, âSo just keep in mind that when people talk about political obstacles to a robust public plan, theyâre not talking about mass public opinion as an obstacleâtheyâre talking about the wealth and power of relatively narrow interests.â
Check out Nate Silver’s statistical analysis of the impact insurance industry lobbying is having on the process. [See: Special Interest Money Means Longer Odds for Public Option]
Silver wrote: âhealth care is one of those areas where both popular opinion and sound public policy seem to take a backseat to protecting those stakeholders who benefit from the status quo. But can we actually see — statistically — the impact of lobbying by the insurance industry on the prospects for health care reform? I believe that the answer is yes.â
Top recipients of PAC money from these industries since 2004 are as follows:
Senator Cycles PAC $
Baucus (D-MT) 3.125 $141,250
McConnell (R-KY) 3.125 $110,750
Nelson (D-NE) 3.125 $106,123
Kyl (R-AZ) 3.125 $106,000
Gregg (R-NH) 3.125 $103,500
Grassley (R-IA) 3.125 $95,000
Lincoln (D-AR) 3.125 $91,000
Enzi (R-WY) 3.125 $87,000
Chambliss (R-GA) 3.125 $86,750
Ensign (R-NV) 3.125 $85,750
AVERAGE SENATOR $37,267