by Jonathan Singer, Tue Jul 08, 2008 at 04:23:53 AM EDT
Last week I noted that all appearances were showing that the Republican Party was on the verge of losing one of its most loyal constituencies -- doctors, and more specifically the American Medical Association -- as a result of GOP efforts in the United States Senate to filibuster a measure that would avert a more than 10 percent cut in Medicare payments. Just how big of a supporter has the AMA been for Republicans in years past? Prior to this cycle, the AMA gave 67 percent, 76 percent, 60 percent, 53 percent, 70 percent, and 76 percent of their contributions to GOP candidates during the 2006, 2004, 2002, 2000, 1998 and 1996 cycles, respectively. Overall, during the period of Republican control over Congress, the AMA gave more than two-thirds of its $15 million in contributions to Republican candidates.
Yet despite the prospect that it is the GOP appears of the verge of losing the support of the doctors -- at a time, I might add, when it looks like the party will slip even further out of contention for majorities in either chamber of Congress, with losses of 20 or more seats possibly on the horizon in the House and half a dozen or more in the Senate to boot -- The Hill seems to think it's the AMA that should be worried. Here's Jeffrey Young's article under the heading "Docs risking ire of GOP on Medicare".
Lobbying groups representing physicians have been taking a noticeably partisan tack in their fight to protect their Medicare fees, siding with Democrats and risking a backlash from Republicans in the process.
Trade groups tend to be wary of favoring one party, since politicians have long memories and today's minority could be tomorrow's majority.
But sometimes interest groups find themselves in a position where they have to risk future comeuppance for present gain.
"It's a calculated risk that's made," said a lobbyist who has worked to pass the Medicare bill. "It certainly can come full circle and bite you on the butt in the end," the lobbyist said. "We'll see what happens in future years."
Young gets a few things backwards here. First, doctors aren't beholden to the GOP. They aren't required to take it on the chin from a party they have long supported -- particularly when the hit is coming because the Republicans are putting insurance companies, another constituency that has helped fund the GOP over the years, over the doctors. The Republicans made a calculation: They thought they could completely contravene the sentiments of their backers and get away with it scot-free. Turns out they can't. Shocking, I know. But that's politics.
The other thing Young misses is that the Republicans will have a decreasing ability to get back at the AMA. Young talks about the long memory that legislators have -- but it's going to have to be awfully long to make much of a difference here. As noted above, the likelihood is that the Republicans will have significantly fewer seats in the House come January and somewhere at or just slightly above 40 seats in the Senate. With these types of numbers, there just isn't a huge amount of wrath that the party can inflict on anyone. What's more, looking ahead to the 2010 cycle -- one in which Republicans must defend more seats than the Democrats, including potentially endangered seats in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kentucky (Jim Bunning), Kansas (Sam Brownback retiring), Louisiana (David Vitter), and even Arizona (John McCain), as well as others -- the prospects aren't great for the GOP being able to do much to get back at the doctors.
As far as I'm concerned, Republicans should continue to piss of their key constituencies. Their voting base is already unenthusiastic this year, so why not add their financial base, too?