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Ex-Lawmakers Hired to Lobby on Health Care Reform

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Washington's revolving door may fall off its hinges as lawmakers continue debating health care reform.

Citing data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the Washington Post reported this morning that insurers, pharmaceutical companies, medical associations and hospitals have hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress as part of a $1.4 million-a-day lobbying campaign.

"The revolving door offers a short cut to a member of Congress to the highest bidder," Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told the Post. "It's a small cost of doing business relative to the profits they can garner."

Although some business interests are cooperating with the White House and congressional Democrats on aspects of health care reform, the medical community largely opposes President Barack Obama's plan for a government-run health insurance option. And as the Obama administration's calls for a public option grow louder, industry groups are fighting back by retaining additional lobbyists, who include some of Washington's most experienced power brokers.

Former Senate leaders Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), as well as one-time House leaders Richard Armey (R-Texas) and Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), work for lobbying firms retained by health product companies or have lobbied directly for them. Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) is president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhARMA), a trade association that represents many of the industry's largest companies and spent $7 million on lobbying in the 1st Quarter of 2009.

Ex-staffers may not match these former lawmakers' star power, but their connections to current players are still in high demand. The Post notes that nearly half of the 350 insiders previously worked for key committees and lawmakers, including Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa)--the Senate Finance Committee's chairman and ranking member, respectively.

This graphic illustrates just how wide and bipartisan these lobbyists' connections extend. The Post article also describes a meeting last month that demonstrates the close ties among powerful congressional staffers and their former colleagues-turned-lobbyists.

This June 10 reunion featured two former Baucus chiefs of staff, David Castagnetti and Jeffrey A. Forbes, as well as a former aide to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Richard Tarplin. Castagnetti's firm, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, is retained by America's Health Insurance Plans (one of the public option's staunchest opponents), PhARMA, and a handful of doctors' groups. Forbes has also lobbied on behalf of PhARMA.

Tarplin's lobby shop, Tarplin Strategies, has received $60,000 this year from the American Medical Association, a vocal critic of the president's health care proposals and No. 14 out of the 100 all-time top spenders in federal politics.

Tarplin may be presenting the AMA's case, but his former employer, Dodd, has recently emerged as perhaps the public health care option's most powerful Senate backer. The Connecticut Democrat now serves as the de facto chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee while Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is sidelined as he deals with his own health concerns.

Late last month, Capital Eye detailed Big Pharma's renewed efforts to overrun Capitol Hill with representatives. The pharmaceutical industry now employs a total of 1,309 lobbyists, or 12 percent of all lobbyists in Washington, and has spent $1.2 million for each day Congress has been in session this year.


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