Insurance Industry Successful in Initial Fight Against Public Option; Public Feels Left Out
- Dale Eisman
The Senate Finance Committee handed a major victory to the health care industry Tuesday by voting down two proposals that would have created a “public option” to compete against private health insurance providers as part of an overhaul of the nation’s health care system. The industry has fought the public option with lobbying expenses and campaign contributions since the beginning of the year, fearing that the proposed policy would cut into their record profits. A study done earlier this month by Public Campaign Action Fund found that the insurance and HMO industry spent nearly $5 billion per week in reported contributions and lobbying expenses.
At the same time, a poll recently conducted jointly by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Kaiser Family Foundation and National Public Radio found that the vast majority of people don’t feel like they personally have a voice in the debate over health care. According to the poll, “Seventy-one percent say that Congress is paying too little attention to what people like them are saying about changes to the health care system, and two-thirds say there is no group in Washington that represents their own views on what’s best for the country when it comes to health care, or they don’t know if there is such a group.”
“It is hard to argue that the huge sums of money these companies have spent on fighting off the public option have not influenced the outcome of this fight, specifically the campaign contributions,” said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause.
According to analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, the 15 lawmakers to vote against the public option amendment offered by Sen. Jay Rockefeller received $69,137 more, on average, from the insurance industry since 1989 than the eight who voted for it. The 13 lawmakers who voted against another public option amendment offered by Sen. Chuck Schumer received $93,177 more, on average, from insurers since 1989 than the 10 who voted for it.
“The insurance industry – and any other industry for that matter – will be able to fight off these kinds of reforms as long as they can continue to infuse the political debate with campaign contributions,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign. “The public knows that these big money donors expect something in return for their money – and Americans feel like their voices don’t count. That’s why we need the Fair Elections Now Act.”
The Fair Elections Now Act, introduced by Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson in the House and Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin in the Senate, would reduce the fundraising pressures on members of Congress. If enacted, congressional candidates would be able to run for office with a mixture of small donations and public funding. The House bill (HR 1826) is nearing 100 cosponsors.
In addition, yesterday the Wall Street Journal released an analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics that found that lobbyists have dramatically shifted their giving from Republican candidates and party committees to the Democrats. In 2006, lobbyists gave approximately 37 percent of their donations to Democrats in 2006, when the Republicans controlled the White House and the Senate. Since the Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress and the White House this year, lobbyists have given 70 percent of their contributions to Democrats. During the first six months of this year Democrats have received 65 percent of donations from corporate political action committees, compared to 44 percent during the first six months of 2005. The Journal found that trend is true across all nine major industry groups, including health care.
“There is absolutely no question that money talks in Washington for both Republicans and Democrats,” said Edgar. “Until we reform this system of campaign fundraising in this country, public’s interest will always play second fiddle for some members of Congress to their special interest donors.”
Based in Washington, D.C., Public Campaign is a national non-profit non-partisan organization dedicated to sweeping campaign reform laws that aim to dramatically reduce the role of big money in politics.