Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I’ll Show Ya Some Sweetheart Deals

I’m playing the world’s tiniest violin for Republicans crying about how Sen. Harry Reid larded up the healthcare bill with so-called “sweetheart deals” to “buy” support. It’s been all over Fox, conservative blogs, “the Twitter” etc. Bill Kristol even called them “sleazy.”

Y’know, one way to have avoided that was if you’d dropped your filibuster threat. Then the Democrats would have had 51 votes, and we wouldn’t have needed to cut any deals to pass this legislation.

C’mon, admit it, y’all are just pissed you got outmaneuvered and you’re walking home to your states empty-handed.

But let’s take a look at these “sweetheart deals,” shall we?
The “Louisiana Purchase,” as it is being called, a provision for Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, who obtained an extra $300 million in Medicaid funds for her state.

Eh, I don’t have a problem with that. Louisiana is struggling, the money is going to help low-income people needing medical care. Too bad Tennessee couldn’t get in on that deal; guess that’s what happens when you’re represented by the Party of No in the U.S. Senate. Once again, our Senators Alexander and Corker show themselves to be absolutely useless.

It’s those “sweetheart deals” that benefit no one save the insurance industry that make me nuts. Look what Sen. Ben Nelson brought home to Nebraska:

Insurance giant Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Nebraska, for instance, would pay between $15 million and $20 million less in fees under the Senate bill than it would have without a change the Nebraska Democrat helped broker, according to Nelson's office. Another insurer, Mutual of Omaha, won't have to pay taxes on so-called Medigap insurance that buttresses Medicare insurance used by the elderly.

Unlike the Blue Cross/Blue Shield deal, that tax break will be extended to other companies. Mutual of Omaha spokesman Jim Nolan said he didn't "have a figure to share" about how much the company may save.

So Nelson brokers a tax break for BlueCross/BlueShield and Mutual of Omaha. That’s what I call a “sweetheart” deal!

And really, the dollar value of all these “sweetheart deals” pales in comparison to the massive amounts of moolah thrown around by lobbyists trying to influence reforms. It’s on tap to beat last year’s record:

Washington’s influence industry is on track to shatter last year’s record $3.3 billion spent to lobby Congress and the rest of the federal government — and that’s with a down economy and about 1,500 fewer registered lobbyists in town, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.


And the lobbying expenditure figures don’t include the heaps of cash interest groups are throwing at advertising, coalition-building, grass-roots and Astroturf outreach — all of which don’t get reported in the figures. Advocacy groups have spent almost $200 million on ads on the health care issue so far this year, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group.

How much of that was spent on derailing the healthcare bill? That’s hard to say: the New York Times, quoting the Center for Responsive Politics, says for the first nine months of this year, healthcare lobbyists spent $396 million. That’s on top of the $486 million the healthcare lobby spent last year, in anticipation of this year’s big legislative issue.

But wait, there's more:

But even those figures do not give the full picture of the cash funneled into lobbying on health care in 2009.

For example, the center’s health care figures do not include lobbying by the insurance industry. Mr. Levinthal said the center could not isolate the amount the industry spent only on health insurance, as opposed to other forms of insurance.

Nor do the figures include spending by groups like the United States Chamber of Commerce, which has multiple issues pending before Congress but led the effort to kill the public option.

And they do not include the $170 million that all sides have spent so far this year on television advertising.
It’s obvious looking at this sham “reform” that lobbyists’ efforts have paid off in a big way. I have far less problem with Senators taking home a few hundred million dollars to expand their state Medicaid programs than I do these corporate handouts. I’m sure the folks at BlueCross/BlueShield and WellPoint are high-fiving each other right now.

So, Merry Christmas everyone. I won’t go so far to say the American people got handed lumps of coal; we got a few crumbs. But I think we deserve so much more.