UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. See main page for full contents

September 21, 2009

BAUCUS IN BED WITH HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY

Financial Times - When Max Baucus circulated his $856bn healthcare reform proposal last week, the White House was among the last to get a copy. The centrist Democratic Montana senator, who chairs the all-important Senate finance committee, sent advance copies of the much-anticipated draft bill first to key figures on "K Street" - shorthand for Washington's powerful lobby firms.

"I was told that . . . K Street had a copy of the Baucus plan, meaning, not surprisingly, the special interests have gotten a copy of the plan [first]," said Robert Gibbs, spokesman for Barack Obama, the president.

In his "bipartisan" plan, which is likely to dominate Capitol Hill in the weeks ahead, Mr Baucus junked the public option. Yet he still failed to attract the support of a single Republican.

"You have to wonder why we have waited so long for a compromise plan that didn't get any Republican support," said a senior Democratic staffer in the House of Representatives. "If we are not going to get any Republicans, then why are we dropping the public option?"

Critics of Mr Baucus, whose draft bill provoked attacks from right and left, point to the six-term senator's close ties with the healthcare industry. Two former chiefs of staff to Mr Baucus - Jeff Forbes and David Castagnetti - are prominent lobbyists for the healthcare industry. Both have had meetings with the Democratic senator this summer.

The principal author of Mr Baucus's draft bill was Liz Fowler, a former senior lobbyist for WellPoint, a large health insurance company. Ms Fowler's predecessor as Mr Baucus's chief healthcare official was Michelle Easton, who now lobbies for Wellpoint at the lobby firm Tarplin, Downs & Young.

The busy "revolving door" between Mr Baucus's office and K Street is lubricated by a handsome flow of election campaign donations. According to Open Secrets, an independent watchdog, Mr Baucus has received $3.8m in donations from the health industry, which puts him among the top five recipients on Capitol Hill. The $690,000 he received last year from health "political action committees" - vehicles for campaign donations - was the highest for any lawmaker. . .

"Seldom have so many waited so long for so little," said Lloyd Doggett, a Democratic lawmaker from Texas, after the plan was released. "This isn't negotiation; it is capitulation to the insurance industry." Lynn Woolsey, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said: "We wouldn't vote for that for anything."

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