President Obama spent months embracing special interests, now he’s blaming them for the backlash against his health care proposals.
For several months, President Obama sought to create an air of inevitability around the passage of health care legislation by touting the cooperation of all the so-called “stakeholders” in the industry, many of whom have historically opposed such efforts.
When he launched his health care push in March, Obama held a White House summit with representatives from 169 different labor, industry, and policy organizations.
Obama declared from the East Room that there was a “clear consensus that the need for health care reform is here and now.” He went on to say that “Insurers agree: Scott Serota with Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said to consider past opposition the past, it is not the present; the time is right for action now.”
In May, Obama announced a deal with industry groups to wring $2 trillion of savings out of the health care system over 10 years.
“I just concluded a extraordinarily productive meeting with organizations and associations that are going to be essential to the work of health care reform in this country — groups that represent everyone from union members to insurance companies, from doctors and hospitals to pharmaceutical companies,” Obama said.
Among the groups involved in the deal were the largest insurance industry lobbyist, America’s Health Insurance Plans, as well as the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
Then in June, Obama announced a deal between PhRMA and AARP to save $80 billion on prescription drug costs over ten years. Separately, PhRMA joined with the liberal Families USA to take out an ad playing off the “Harry and Louise” spots that helped derail health care legislation in 1994, only with the opposite message. “We can get the job done this time,” the Louise character says in the new ads.
And the AMA, which once stood opposed to government-run medicine, endorsed the liberal House Democrats health care bill, which introduces a new government-run plan.
Yet in recent weeks, with support for their health care proposals cratering, the White House and the Democratic Congress have begun lashing out at “special interests” for trying to block legislation, turning Obama’s industry friends into convenient foils.
“(S)ome will try to delay action until the special interests can kill it,” President Obama said in the Rose Garden last month. At an appearance in Raleigh, North Carolina, he said: “The truth is, we have a system today that works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn’t always work well for you. ”
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called health insurers “the villains in this.”
The attacks grew harsher this week as Democrats sought to discredit citizens who voiced their opposition to health care legislation at town hall meetings, painting them as tools of corporations. On Thursday, Obama’s Organizing for America group emailed that “Members of Congress have been home for just a few days, and they’re already facing increased pressure from insurance companies, special interests, and partisan attack organizations that are spending millions to block health insurance reform.”
But the question is: if the Democrats’ push for health care legislation is being supported by the AMA (the special interest for physicians); AHA (the special interest for hospitals); AHIP (the insurance lobby); and PhRMA (the big bad pharmaceutical industry lobbyist), then which powerful special interests are the ones trying to block reform?
“You just named them,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat told me when I posed the question to him during a Thursday conference call hosted by Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal group that has played an active role in the health care debate. “They’re out to do it their way…. Don’t think these interest groups aren’t out there every day fighting to keep their share and enlarge their share of the public health care dollar in this country, and they’re a big reason why this is so difficult.”
Brown pointed out that drug companies were trying to make sure legislation protects them from competition from generic versions of expensive biologic drugs, while insurers are campaigning against a government-run plan. “They’re trying to shape this bill,” he said.
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