Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Health care industry chases after Blue Dogs

WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration and Democrats wrangled over the timing, shape and cost of health care overhaul efforts during the first half of the year, more than half the $1.1 million in campaign contributions the Democratic Party's Blue Dog Coalition received came from the pharmaceutical, health care and health insurance industries, according to watchdog organizations.

The amount outstrips contributions to other congressional political action committees during the same period, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit watchdog organization. The Blue Dogs, a group of fiscally conservative lawmakers, successfully delayed the vote on health care overhaul proposals until the fall.

"The business community realizes that (the Blue Dogs) are the linchpin and will become much more so as time goes on," former Mississippi congressman turned lobbyist Mike Parker told the organization's researchers.
On average, Blue Dog Democrats net $62,650 more from the health sector than other Democrats. Hospitals and nursing homes alone gave them $5,680 and $5,550 more respectively, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit organization that tracks the influence of money in politics.
The contributions came at a time when health care, insurance and pharmaceutical companies were mounting a campaign against a government-run public health insurance option, fearing cost controls and an impact on business. The Blue Dogs' windfall also came at a time when the 52-member coalition flexed its muscle with both the White House and the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives as an increasingly influential bloc in the health care overhaul debate.

In June, as Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., who heads the coalition's task force on health care, publicly expressed the Blue Dogs' misgivings about the Democratic leadership's efforts, the former pharmacy owner was feted at a series of health care industry receptions.

That month, the American Medical Association, which lobbies for health care providers and is one of the top contributors to Blue Dogs, came out against a public option.

Many of the Blue Dogs hail from districts that are conservative-leaning and have sizable numbers of Republican voters. According to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on government transparency, Blue Dogs often take positions that are favorable to the health care industry.
The Blue Dogs also were vocal in their subsequent complaints that House leadership wasn't including the group in the legislation drafting process. Earlier this year, 45 Blue Dogs sent a terse letter to the Democratic chairmen of the Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees, stating that the group felt minimized in the process, which is "especially concerning in light of the collaborative approach being taken by our Senate colleagues."

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