The Obama Administration, which continues to take flak from liberal Democrats over its tepid support for a public health insurance plan that could trim industry profits, met privately with healthcare lobbyists and the aides to the chief Democratic proponent of the president's overhaul in Congress.
Jon Selib, chief of staff to Senate Finance Commitee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Obama White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina met healthcare lobbyists at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee offices Apr. 15. The meeting, revealed by Politico on Friday, has not been previously disclosed.
"The previously undisclosed meeting April 15 at the offices of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee led to the creation of two groups — Americans for Stable Quality Care and a now-defunct predecessor group called Healthy Economy Now — that have spent tens of millions of dollars on TV advertising supporting health reform efforts," Politico's Ben Smith and Ken Vogel write.
"In the most recent ad sponsored by Americans for Stable Quality Care," they continue, "Obama speaks directly into the camera for 60 seconds, extolling the virtues of health care reform, while text at the bottom of the screen encourages viewers to visit the websites of the White House and the Finance Committee, which this week approved a 10-year, $829 billion health overhaul.
Both coalitions operate independently of the administration and Senate Democrats, and spokesmen for both the White House and Baucus said that no pressure — implicit or otherwise — to join the pro-health-care reform groups was applied to industry representatives at the meeting.
After arriving late, Messina delivered a presentation to what was one of many such “outreach” meetings he has attended, and he left before the other participants began talking strategy. Selib, who had convened the gathering, “didn’t ask anyone for money,” said committee spokesman Scott Mulhauser.
Indeed, attendees describe a more subtle dynamic: The Democratic officials made no overt demands. Rather, they brought together the players and laid the groundwork for the creation of the coalition, and that was followed by more-direct solicitations from an outside Democratic consultant, Nick Baldick, retained by Healthy Economy Now, asking attendees at the meeting to join the coalition and contribute to its ad campaigns.
One ethics expert, however, said the meeting still raises issues. No matter how careful Messina and Selib were to avoid conversation about Healthy Economy Now, their mere presence at what proved to be the coalition’s creation raises questions, according to Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that advocates for greater transparency and ethics in government.
The Administration brokered a deal between the pharmaceutical industry and the bill's proponents in which the industry agreed to price concessions valued in the tens of billions in exchange for not facing any additional penalties under the bill. They also were seen as being conciliatory with private health insurers by not coming out strongly in public for a so-called public option.