Guns and Butter—Amount spent on U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since the invasion of the latter in October 2001: $947 billion, including Obama’s $106 billion supplemental appropriation. Cap the Senate Finance Committee imposed on health-care reform expenditures for the next ten years: $1 trillion.
Maxed Out—The Center for Responsive Politics has analyzed Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus’ campaign contributions from corporate health care interests. Baucus presides over one of two Senate committees writing health care legislation, making his $2.8 million in political contributions from the health sector since 1989 noteworthy. Insurers, pharmaceuticals, and hospitals continue to show their love for the conservative Democrat who has represented Montana in the U.S. Senate for thirty-one years. Seven of Baucus’ top donors since the Democrats won control of the Senate in 2006 are health care interests, including four insurance companies. On his current top 10 list are pharmaceutical companies Schering-Plough and Amgen; insurers Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield; and dialysis provider DaVita. Health care interests are working to derail the government-run health insurance program—or “public option”—proposed by President Obama and progressive Democrats in Congress. As it turns out, so is Senator Baucus. He’s settled on health insurance “co-ops” that would initially besubsidized by the federal government but would be regulated by state governments—rather than a nationwide public insurance program that would compete with private insurers. As the Congress departed for its July 4 recess, the outline of the reform package that Baucus released included no public option.
Drug Money—The last big, successful health care bill was passed in 2003, when Republicans controlled the White House and both branches of Congress. At $400 billion, the Medicare prescription drug program was one of the biggest tickets since the Lyndon Johnson presidency. Money was not an issue for congressional Republicans responding to President George W. Bush’s demand that they enact a prescription drug benefit. The budget surplus Bush inherited from Clinton-Gore provided flexibility for prescription drugs and for the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. The Medicare drug act was generous to the nation’s pharmaceutical companies, who were very much involved in shaping it. Two months after it was signed into law, Billy Tauzin, the Louisiana Republican who chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee and helped write the bill and push it through Congress, announced he would not run for a thirteenth term. The day after he left office, Tauzin reported for work at the D.C. offices of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), reportedly at a salary that exceeded $2 million a year. Under Tauzin’s leadership, PhRMA continues to invest in health care reform, spending $20.2 million on lobbying in 2008 and $7 million midway through this year— according to figures compiled on the Center for Responsive Politics’ Web site, OpenSecrets.org.
Senators on the Move—Credit MoveOn.org for nudging Democratic senators in the direction of the “public option” in health care legislation. The netroots group has run TV and radio spots in the states of senators who’ve opposed or waffled on the a government-run public insurance program, such as Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Dianne Feinstein of California. In North Carolina, MoveOn is targeting Kay Hagan, whose narrow victory over Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole in 2008 wouldn’t have been possible without the money and volunteer effort of the netroots community.
Prescription Foods—The Republicans have their own version of health care reform. One provision in a bill filed by Oklahoma Senator (and obstetrician) Tom Coburn would require the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a list of foods that do not meet “science-based standards for proper nutrition” and post them on a no-buy list for food stamp recipients. The restrictions relate to the bill’s laudable goal of lowering health care costs through preventive measures that keep people out of doctors’ offices and hospitals. The bill is a patchwork of small-bore measures: health savings accounts; tax rebates for health insurance premiums; educational campaigns that promote nutrition, exercise, “obesity reduction” and smoking cessation; “wellness bonuses” paid to states whose preventive care programs produce results; insurance exchanges; insurance “finders” to assist individuals in shopping for health insurance. Worthwhile proposals, yet nothing that addresses the larger structural problems driving up costs and making health care inaccessible for many Americans.