Some things still run smoothly in Washington

Such as the revolving door between Congress and corporate lobbyists:

The nation's largest insurers, hospitals and medical groups have hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress in hopes of influencing their old bosses and colleagues, according to an analysis of lobbying disclosures and other records. [...]

Nearly half of the insiders previously worked for the key committees and lawmakers, including  Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and  Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), debating whether to adopt a public insurance option opposed by major industry groups. At least 10 others have been members of Congress, such as former House majority leaders Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) and Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), both of whom represent a New Jersey pharmaceutical firm.

The hirings are part of a record-breaking influence campaign by the health-care industry, which is spending more than $1.4 million a day on lobbying in the current fight, according to disclosure records. And even in a city where lobbying is a part of life, the scale of the effort has drawn attention. For example, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) doubled its spending to nearly $7 million in the first quarter of 2009, followed by Pfizer, with more than $6 million.

So corporate groups are spending $1.4 million a day on lobbying to block a real public health insurance option, which most Americans want.

That's on top of the millions of dollars the same corporate groups have donated directly to Congressional campaigns. Iowa's Senator Chuck Grassley has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the industries with the most at stake in health care reform.

Members of Congress claim lobbyists and campaign money don't shape their opinions, but Grassley should know better. He understands that big money from pharmaceutical companies can influence the conclusions of medical researchers--why not elected officials?

Nate Silver has found strong evidence that special-interest money affects Democratic senators' support for the public option in health care reform.

By the way, I wasn't too cheered by Senator Chuck Schumer's promise over the weekend that the health care bill will contain a public option. The current draft in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions excludes lots of people from choosing the public option over their current health insurance. That will limit competition for the private insurers that have near-monopolies in many markets.

Back in 2003 all the Democratic presidential candidates talked a good game on health care. Now Dick "this is a moral issue" Gephardt is lobbying for a pharmaceutical company. I'll stand with Howard Dean and hope that John Edwards was wrong about the system being rigged because corporations have too much power in Washington.

Final note: is organizing health care rallies this Thursday, July 9, at senators' offices in their home states. Sign up here to attend a rally near you.

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An example of everything that's wrong with our politics

Dick Gephardt, former House Democratic Leader, House Majority Leader and House Minority Leader is President and CEO of the Gephardt Group, a Washington lobbying firm that "provides strategic advice to clients on issues before the House, Senate and Executive Branch in the federal government."

The Gephardt Group just hired Dennis Hastert and his lobbying firm, Dickstein Shapiro, to assist on a $35,000-per-month contract for the government of Turkey.

Hastert used to be the Republican Speaker of the House.

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Howard Dean vs Barack Obama on Health Care

(previously posted to Daily Kos

Imagine a presidential candidate pushing this three-tiered national health care plan:

- States should be required to guarantee coverage for all children under age 23. In return, the federal government should assume responsibility for drug and acute medical care for Americans over age 65.

- Older Americans deserve a pharmacy benefit under Medicare (an unaffordable impossibility under Bush's current fiscal policies). This would cost $450 billion over 10 years, a little more than 1/4 of the value of Bush's tax cut. With a pharmaceutical package, Medicare becomes a decent insurance program.

- Finally, to cover those between the ages of 23 and 65, we should use the present employer-based system with refundable tax credits and federal subsidies to cover low- and moderate-income Americans who lack insurance.

Imagine this candidate's rivals for the Democratic nomination assailing his plan from the left as not comprehensive enough.

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Take a trip in the way-back machine to...2004

I was having a debate today with someone who thinks the Democratic candidates for President in 2008 "suck." I disagreed and to prove my point took a look back at our field in 2004.  My thoughts below, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts.  Is our current field good, great, bad, ugly?  And feel free to share your thoughts on '04, which I thought was a pretty rough field.

Kerry (who I worked for) - Live Shot Kerry was an undistinguished Senator whose biggest accomplishment in 20 years in the Senate was getting on television fairly often for a guy who was clearly second banana to Ted Kennedy.  Tom Carper may have been jealous, but that's about it.

Dean - the short guy who became governor of Vermont when the real governor died.  If it wasn't for Iraq, nobody ever hears of him.  One of the great single issue candidates of all time, but still a single issue candidate.

Gephardt - peaked in 1988, all downhill since.  Tied himself to the old-school unions and didn't really have anything else, as he supported NAFTA, so he could never be as protectionist as one wing of the party would like.

Graham - interesting guy, but batshit crazy and old to boot.

Clark - just a huge flop on the trail.  Couldn't campaign to save his life and was totally unready to run even though he got in really late.

Edwards - actually the bright spot of the group.  The expectations were low and he ran a good campaign.  But come on, a guy who was an ambulance chaser (a very nice one by all accounts) and a Senator for 5 minutes was the best candidate...that's rough.

Mosley-Braun - a .22 caliber mind in a .357 caliber world and screwed up royally in the Senate to boot.

Lieberman - never capitalized on his name recognition and early lead in the polls.  His campaign was one long exercise in letting the air out of a tire.

Kucinich - uhhh...

Sharpton - see above, but more entertaining.

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Lobbyist Gephardt

Adam Terando noticed something about the last post on global warming and Barack Obama.  Dick Gephardt is lobbying for Peabody Energy, the world's largest private coal company.  That's rather surprising, but also illuminating.  It's pretty disgusting what Big Coal wants.

But coal executives anticipate potentially huge profits. Gregory H. Boyce, chief executive of Peabody Energy, based in St. Louis, which has $5.3 billion in sales, told an industry conference nearly two years ago that the value of Peabody's coal reserves would skyrocket almost tenfold, to $3.6 trillion, if it sold all its coal in the form of liquid fuels.

Coal industry lobbying has reached a fever pitch. The industry spent $6 million on federal lobbying in 2005 and 2006, three times what it spent each year from 2000 through 2004, according to calculations by

Peabody, which has quadrupled its annual lobbying budget to about $2 million since 2004, recently hired Richard A. Gephardt, the Missouri Democrat who was House majority leader from 1989 to 1995 and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2004, to help make its case in Congress.

One of the most vociferous champions of coal-to-liquid fuels is the Southern States Energy Board, a group organized by governors from 16 states. Last year, the group published a study, which cost $500,000, that concluded that coal-to-liquid fuel could and should replace almost one-third of imported oil by 2030.

As it happens, the coal industry supplied much of the financing for the study and subsequent marketing. Peabody Energy contributed about $150,000 and the National Mining Association added $50,000, officials at the Southern States Energy Board said.

The inducements under discussion would not only subsidize up to 10 coal-to-liquid plants, but also guarantee a minimum market through long-term contracts with the Air Force and minimum prices for at least some producers.

"There is financial uncertainty, which is inhibiting the flow of private capital into the construction of coal-to-liquid facilities," said Mr. Boucher, who supports most of the proposals and is drafting portions of the energy bill.

In addition to construction loan guarantees, Mr. Boucher would protect the first six liquid plants from drops in energy prices. If oil prices fell below about $40 a barrel, the government would automatically grant loans to the first six plants that make coal-based fuels. If oil prices climbed to $80 a barrel, companies would have to pay a surcharge to the government.

Peabody is one of the most aggressive union-busting outfits out there.  Over the last fifteen years, the company systematically shut down union mines and replaced production with non-union mines.  Right now, there's a Justice at Peabody campaign aimed at mines in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Gephardt made much of his political career based on standing up for labor, and in particular his 1988 campaign and his top showing in Iowa.  But there was another side to Gephardt, which showed in his opposition to the minimum wage, his anti-choice stances, his support of Reagan's tax cuts in 1981, and his backing of fast track in 1991, which led to NAFTA.  Gephardt was and is, like most Democrats of that era, weak, untrustworthy, and disloyal.  It's important to note that people like Gephardt are deeply corrupted because they still have a lot of influence within the party.

Gephardt should not be respected.  He's a nice man, a genial person, and very experienced.  But he has no moral compass whatsoever.  When you work for a carbon spewing union-busting corporation just to make a few extra dollars in a high priced lobbying outfit, well, that's DC for you.  But when you do it after a long career pretending to being the true voice of labor, that's the 1980s and 1990s Coelho-ified Democratic Party.

And for 50 bonus points, guess which Presidential campaign Gephardt is advising on policy issues.

Update [2007-5-29 13:59:54 by Matt Stoller]: And here's the answer.

Sperling, who was top White House official, and former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman are playing leading roles in the Clinton campaign, organizing meetings for the candidate on a wide range of topics. Former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt is also actively engaged with the campaign.

It's interesting how the consensus in the comments was that Gephardt would be advising the Obama campaign. Perhaps this should be a sign that Obama isn't differentiating himself particularly well.

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