After targeting the exorbitant pay of health insurance company executives, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) has found herself targeted with a full court press by the Republicans, intent on not only discrediting Lincoln, but also determined to defeat any effort to restrict the pay of the insurance CEOs.
The CEOs of some of the companies themselves had reportedly asked lobbyists for the heath insurance industry to defeat a legislative proposal by Lincoln that would limite tax deductions that companies could take for high executive salaries.
Lincoln and other Democrats say that the attacks illustrate the close ties between the Republican Party and the insurance industry, and have been directed by the insurance industry as retaliation for her position.
Lincoln is also immensely unpopular with many on the left for her opposition to a public option, a proposed government run insurance program for a small number of Americans that would compete with private insurance companies. Some such as Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher would like to see a primary challenge face Lincoln as much Republicans would simply want to defeat her in her next general election.
In response to Lincoln’s amendment to restrict CEO compensation for the health insurance company executives, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee said that Lincoln should “apply that same standard to herself.”
“If Blanche Lincoln truly believes that heath care insurance profits are too high and that they should be punished with higher taxes, why shouldn’t she reject using those same profits to prop-up her embattled re-election campaign,” a spokesperson for the NRSCC said.
The NRSCC also said that Lincoln should donate the more than $550,000 she had received form the health insurance industry to charity.
But attempting to portray Lincoln and other Democrats in the pocket of the health insurance industry is a strategy that could backfire. The Republican Party has long been closer to the insurance industry, receiving a larger share of campaign contributions.
The largest recipients of campaign contributions from the heath insurance industry have been Republicans. The largest beneficiaries in the Senate have been Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). In the House, those who have received the most from the insurance industry are the that chamber’s two highest ranking Republicans: House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA).
As the Washington Post reported last March:
Health insurers and their employees contributed $2.2 million to the top 10 recipients in the House and Senate since 2005, while drug makers and their employees gave more than $3.3 million to top lawmakers during that period, according to an analysis of federal elections data by Consumer Watchdog, a California-based advocacy group.
The biggest beneficiaries in the Senate included John McCain (R-Ariz.), with $546,000; Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), with $425,000; and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), with $413,000, who as head of the Finance Committee will play a leading role in the debate over health-care reform.
In the House, the two groups gave $257,000 to Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and $249,000 to Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). On the Democratic side, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (N.D.) received contributions from the insurance sector ($104,000), while Rep. John D. Dingell (Mich.) took in $180,000 from drug companies.
The Republican committee, however, has not indicated whether McCain, Boehner, or Cantor will return their own contributions to the industry.
The Hill newspaper describes in some detail Lincoln's proposal:
Under current law, companies can claim up to $1 million per executive in annual write-offs. The Lincoln proposal would reduce the write-off to $400,000, the same annual salary as the president draws. According to Lincoln, the bill would also save $651 million in revenue over the next 10 years.
"This is a fair policy aimed at encouraging health insurance companies to put premium dollars toward lower rates and more affordable coverage, not in the pocketbooks of their executives," Lincoln said. "I am proud of this proposal, which will reassure American consumers and taxpayers that health insurance executives aren’t receiving a personal windfall – and that the companies they work for are not receiving excessive tax breaks."
The measure has arguably equal symbolic importance for Lincoln, who's been accused of being too close to insurers by some liberal groups over her reluctance to sign onto a bill containing a public option.
Update: Lincoln's proposal was defeated Sunday. Her amendment won support from 56 senators, among them Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. But Lincoln needed 60 votes for her amendment to become part of the final health care bill. Other than Snowe, every other Republican Senator voted against her amendment. Most Democrats voted for it.
The Democrats who voted against the amendment were Sens. Thomas Carper, (D-Del.), Jeff Bingaman, (D-N.M).; and Byron Dorgan, (D-N.D.) -- as well as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, of Connecticut, who is an Independent, but caucuses with Democrats.