Who wins on U.S. healthcare reform? Washington’s lobbyists, for starters
While pundits try to figure out whether Republicans or Democrats will benefit most from healthcare reform come November’s congressional elections, what seems mighty clear already is that Washington’s lobbyists are undisputed winners in the epic debate.
The watchdog Center for Public Integrity says lobbyists were paid at least $1.2 billion to work on health issues including healthcare reform in 2009. That giant chunk of change sent an army of more than 4,500 lobbyists scrambling up the slopes of Capitol Hill toward the ramparts of the House and Senate, where 535 elected public officials either braced for the onslaught or hurried out the welcome mat.
It’s possible that a filibuster-proof majority busied themselves with the latter. Lawmakers were, after all, outnumbered by more than 8 to 1.
Exact dimensions of the money trail are problematic. The tangled world of politics and money comes with plenty of caveats. For example, the Center’s analysis can’t say how much money was spent specifically on healthcare reform, because disclosure rules don’t require that degree of detail. Another thing: the numbers show activity in 2009 only, and don’t reflect the magnificent political gyrations that occurred this year, both before and after Republican Scott Brown became a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. More up-to-date lobbying stats, covering 2010’s first quarter, are due out in a few weeks.
“The precise amount that went to health reform remains unknown. But if only 10 percent of that lobby spending went toward health reform, the amount would total $120 million – and that’s likely a record for a single year’s spending on a particular issue,” the Center points out.
The numbers also suggest the healthcare industry might mean more to Washington than to the rest of the country, economically speaking. While healthcare represents about 16 percent of U.S. GDP, that $1.2 billion spent on health-related lobbying is more than one-third of the $3.47 billion spent on lobbying as a whole in 2009. The lobbying total comes from another watchdog group, Center for Responsive Politics.
Comparison with the health-related lobbying of years past is also a challenge.
The Center for Public Integrity calculates that more than 1,750 corporations, trade associations, unions and other special interest organizations were involved in the battle last year. But its list goes well beyond the actors in a typical year because the reform debate touched so many different segments of American life.
By contrast, the Center for Responsive Politics says the much narrower universe of healthcare industries — drug companies, hospitals, HMOs and the like — spent $539 million on lobbying last year. That’s up about 11 percent from $485 million in 2008.
In fact, lobby spending on health-related issues has been climbing steadily since 2000. Now there’s news for you.
Photo credits: Reuters/Lucas Jackson (Doctor’s stethoscope); Reuters/Sukree Sukplang (Money in the bank); Reuters/Larry Downing (U.S. Capitol alight)
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