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NYT Shines Spotlight on Obamacare's "Revolving Door"


In 2006, President Obama gave a speech condemning the culture of lobbying in DC, holding up as an example a closed-door deal the then-reigning GOP made with a clutch of health care lobbyists. Seven years later, the front page of the NYT has a big story about “dozens” of former administration officials moving into lobbying positions:

The health care industry now spends more money on lobbying in Washington than any sector of the economy—more than $243 million last year alone, slightly higher than the $242 million spent by financial, insurance and real estate companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics here.

Of the “revolving door lobbyists” profiled by the center, those specializing in health care account for 12 percent, more than any other economic sector.

Critics say these former officials are cashing in, trading on the relationships and expertise they acquired while working for the taxpayers, and cite such career moves as proof that Mr. Obama has not lived up to his promise to change the culture of influence peddling in the capital.

Of course, this is the kind of thing that one would expect with any major reform, but big, monolithic laws that depend on special interests for their existence are especially likely to invite a feeding frenzy among the lobbying class. Obama is running into a central contradiction of progressive governance: it’s extremely difficult to both limit lobbyist influence and pursue big ambitious laws that centralize political power in DC.

The influence of lobbyists on Obamacare should be especially disconcerting to true progressives given that important details of the law are still being determined. The NYT double dipped in Obamacare anxiety today by running a second story on the murky fate of drug coverage under the ACA:

States running the marketplaces where the plans will be offered have not released details about which drugs will be covered. Insurers have said little about how much consumers will be asked to contribute or what types of restrictions will be placed on certain medicines. Of the few states that have revealed specifics, some have plans that will require patients to contribute as much as 50 percent of the cost of the most expensive drugs.

It’s not clear how much of this lingering uncertainty will be affected by federal policy, but given the stories that came out this summer about Congressional price-fixing, it’s likely more than most Americans will be comfortable with. All the more the reason to pursue consumer-based reforms that allow the consumer, instead of the special interests, to set prices.

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  • cubanbob

    If these revolving door lobbyists had to wait five years after leaving government service this wouldn’t be such a problem. Now if they were taxed at 90% during the five years of lobbying after leaving government service that too would ameliorate the problem.

    • Boritz

      Good rules. Of course there would be exceptions for former members of the House and Senate and senior members of the executive branch and those who are granted a waiver.

      • Corlyss

        So true. The way it works is that the gov’t official is prohibited from lobbying his old agency or dealing with them directly on matters he was personally involved in as a gov’t official. But it does not stop him for working as a lobbyist with other agencies in the same areas. E.g., let’s say the person was an expert with EPA in fossil fuels. He couldn’t lobby EPA, but he could lobby USGA, Commerce, DoE, BLM, etc. Naturally the lobbying world has no such restrictions on their employees going to work for the govt as far as regulating the same firms the employee used to lobby. In fact, lobby firms love that; there’s always a desk waiting for them when they leave government service. The worst examples of this are not congressmen or high level executive branch employees per se (excepting the stupid ones like Darlene Druyun) but rather the congressional staffs, which there are thousands.

  • Corlyss

    My only question about this hypocrisy is why, at this late date in America’s political maturity, would ANYONE HAVE EVER BELIEVED HIM? It simply beggars the imagination who people could be so gullible in the face of what was known about Obama even in 2007, i.e., that he was a machine pol. I occasionally worry about the Stupid party, but its the stupid voters that keep me up at night.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “All the more the reason to pursue consumer-based reforms that allow the consumer, instead of the special interests, to set prices.”

    That’s what I’m talking about, nothing beats the free enterprise system at providing the best quality, service, and price.

  • Kavanna

    The first wave of the Obamacare architects left government to take jobs in the very industries that benefit most from Obamacare, health care insurance and service providers (hospitals, etc., anything that’s medical-labor-intensive, even though that’s by far the largest cost in our system).

    Now they’re getting lobbying jobs — big deal.

    Travel to Washington periodically and watch the ever more gold-plated economy of cronyism and government-dependent plutocracy transform the town, once an epitome of middle-class civil servant-hood. It’s not new — it started in the late 80s and blossomed in the 90s and 2000s, under Clinton and Bush. But Obamacare represents a new potency to the trend — it’s not about health care.

    Obama pre-2009 rhetoric was his phase of parroting whatever sounded “reformist,” while he was being groomed by the Chicago machine to take the bloated welfare state to new heights: no hope or change, just more of the same on an epic scale.

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