This Monday, or perhaps the next one, the U.S. Supreme Court will render its judgment on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul legislation, narrowly passed by Congress two years ago.
As a prelude, House Republicans are re-constructing the behind-the-scenes conversations that took place in 2009 and 2010. From the New York Times, as the weekend broke:
WASHINGTON — After weeks of talks, drug industry lobbyists were growing nervous. To cut a deal with the White House on overhauling health care, they needed to be sure that President Obama would stop a proposal intended to bring down medicine prices.
On June 3, 2009, one of the lobbyists e-mailed Nancy-Ann DeParle, the president’s health care adviser. Ms. DeParle reassured the lobbyist. Although Mr. Obama was overseas, she wrote, she and other top officials had “made decision, based on how constructive you guys have been, to oppose importation” on a different proposal.
Just like that, Mr. Obama’s staff signaled a willingness to put aside support for the reimportation of prescription medicines at lower prices and by doing so solidified a compact with an industry the president had vilified on the campaign trail. Central to Mr. Obama’s drive to remake the nation’s health care system was an unlikely collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry that forced unappealing trade-offs.
The e-mail exchange three years ago was among a cache of messages obtained from the industry and released in recent weeks by House Republicans — including a new batch put out Friday detailing the industry’s advertising campaign supporting Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul. The broad contours of his dealings with the industry were known in 2009, but the newly public e-mails open a window into the compromises underlying a health care law now awaiting the judgment of the Supreme Court.
A memo released Friday by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce focused on the relationship between the White House and the pharmaceutical industry. U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, a member of that committee and an obstetrician, is concentrating on another portion of the tale – he’s taking on the AARP.
Another powerful interest group, the AARP, was also a key player in White House efforts to direct advocacy campaigns and push legislation over the finish line. In December 2009, when health care legislation was one vote short in the Senate, Messina communicated with the AARP:
From: Messina, Jim
Sent: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 12:49 PM (GMT)
To: LeaMond, Nancy
We need barry rand to go meet with ben nelson personally and just lay it on the line. “We will be with you, we will protect you. But if you kill this bill, seniors will not forget.”
We are at 59, we have to have him
Messina did not just want a meeting; he wanted phone calls, and lots of them. Messina asked the AARP: “Can we get immediate robo calls into Nebraska urging nelson to vote for cloture?” Messina also forwarded the AARP a list of “top 25 targets list from house leadership” that were “to get thanked with ads after the vote.” Yet, during the push for health care legislation, AARP was overwhelmed with calls opposing the health care legislation: “Our calls against reform are coming in 14 to 1.”
Phone calls were not the only thing letting AARP know that embracing the White House push for any health care law might not be publicly supported.
When the White House Office of Public Engagement approached AARP to provide an official for a roundtable, a representative replied: “…I think we will try to keep a little space between us and the White House on the issue. Our polling shows we are more influential when we are seen as independent, so we want to reinforce that positioning.” Ten days later an AARP representative forwarded Messina and DeParle a press release announcing “Survey Finds AARP Members Back Critical Provisions of Health Care Reform Legislation.” Messina replied: “Excellent.”
The AARP endorsed both the House health care bill and the Senate health care bill.
Said Gingrey, through spokeswoman Jen Talaber:
”Our Medicare program is going bankrupt, and our seniors need solutions. They don’t need political organizations selling them out to the White House. Obamacare cut more than $500 billion out of the Medicare program, and the AARP supports that….
“Now I know why they made a deal with the White House. As a physician I believe my former patients deserve answers from AARP on why they’re taking orders from the White House. This deserves closer public scrutiny.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider