HHS buries report. Obama’s mining activity. Dick Morris meddles. Paying Wall Street back. Labaton’s post-NYT profits.
The economic report released last week by Health and Human Services, which indicated that President Barack Obama’s health care “reform” law would actually increase the cost of health care and impose higher costs on consumers, had been submitted to the office of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius more than a week before the Congressional votes on the bill, according to career HHS sources, who added that Sebelius’s staff refused to review the document before the vote was taken.
“The reason we were given was that they did not want to influence the vote,” says an HHS source. “Which is actually the point of having a review like this, you would think.”
The analysis, performed by Medicare’s Office of the Actuary, which in the past has been identified as a “nonpolitical” office, set off alarm bells when submitted. “We know a copy was sent to the White House via their legislative affairs staff,” says the HHS staffer, “and there were a number of meetings here almost right after the analysis was submitted to the secretary’s office. Everyone went into lockdown, and people here were too scared to go public with the report.”
In the end, the report was released several weeks after the vote — the review by the secretary’s office reportedly took less than three days — and bore a note that the analysis was not the official position of the Obama administration.
The irony of President Barack Obama visiting Beckley, West Virginia, Sunday to read a eulogy at the memorial service for those who died in the Upper Big Branch Mine accident, has not been lost on some White House aides. “If we had our way we’d be mourning the mining industry, not miners,” says a White House aide. “As an environmental issue, we want the majority of these mining related industries just to go away.”
In fact, the White House and some Obama Administration staffers at the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency have been coordinating with left-wing environmental groups to launch protests in West Virginia over such techniques as “mountaintop removal mining.” This enabled the EPA to cite such protests as support for their new rulemaking. Earlier this month, the agency imposed rules sharply curtailing that form of strip mining in such states as West Virginia. The rules may end up costing several hundred West Virginians their jobs.
Now the Obama Administration is looking for ways to reward those groups they coordinated with. According to sources inside the EPA, the agency is attempting to find ways to get funding to several organizations it worked with on the mountaintop mining and other efforts, including Appalachian Voices and Coal River Mountain Watch. Meanwhile, the administration is attempting to identify ways to fund a much more influential “pass through” organization, the Appalachian Community Fund, an organization run out of Knoxville, Tennessee.
“Appalachian Community Fund is like the ACORN of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee,” says a Commerce Department political employee. “If we can get it just a few hundred thousand dollars, it can organize for us down there in ways to help us politically, and it’s done great things for us with the EPA and other entities.”
Some California conservatives were scratching their heads over an email being sent around by longtime Democrat and Clinton adviser Dick Morris, telling California Republicans not to support Senate candidate Tom Campbell, who has been leading a number of different polls, and who has declined to sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to not support tax increases.
“Guess Campbell didn’t take any of Morris’s advice or a phone call,” joked one California political consultant. Morris has gained the reputation for using his emailed newsletter and Fox News appearances to criticize candidates he has attempted to rope into any number of entities he consults for, including the League of American Voters organization. In his email, Morris encouraged Republicans to support either Chuck Devore or Carly Fiorina. Of the latter two, Devore appears to be the one candidate showing momentum leading into June 8 primary.
PAYBACK BIG TIME
One of the reasons the Obama Administration has stepped up its public criticism of Wall Street isn’t just its opposition to the regulatory reform legislation on Capitol Hill, say New York-based executives for such firms as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America. It’s because the firms have largely been pushing back against a number of requests from the White House in the past several months.
According to these executives White House political advisers, such as Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, have been calling senior management of those and other firms demanding that the banks step up hiring. “They don’t think we’re hiring enough of their people or people in general while we’re making profits,” says one executive with Bank of America. “And for several months now, they’ve been pushing us to do more to help them on the employment front.”
Jarrett and Axelrod’s requests have been met with little enthusiasm from B of A CEO Brian Moynihan, J.P. Morgan Chase CEO James Dimon, and Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein, among others, say the executives, in part, because they don’t feel stepping up hiring and recruitment is wise. Other executives say that even as he has led the Capitol Hill lobbying effort for Wall Street regulation, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, has also been making calls to firm executives encouraging them to help the administration on its job creation and stimulus efforts.
One hire that Goldman has made was former New York Times reporter Stephen Labaton, who covered economic issues and sometimes conservative politics for the paper. Labaton, who is married to Miriam Sapiro, a bundler for Obama’s presidential campaign and now a senior official in Obama’s U.S. Trade Representative office, took a buyout from the Times late last year and immediately began offering his services to many of the companies he previously had reported on, offering to assist them in gaining access to his friends in the media. At least one company, according to Labaton friends at the Times, took him up on the offer, paying him more than $7,500 a month for his advice, believing that his wife’s close ties from her fundraising days to such Obama Administration officials as FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner Chairman Gary Gensler, and special adviser on Afghanistan-Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, might help them. Now Labaton is a full-time consultant to the Wall Street firm on regulatory and legislative issues. Who says journalism isn’t a profitable business any more?
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