Lobbyists on a Roll: Gutting Reform on Banking, Energy, and Health Care
From the page: "If world-class lobbying could win a Stanley Cup, the credit-ratings caucus would be skating a victory lap this week. The Obama plan for financial re-regulation leaves unscathed this favored class of businesses whose fingerprints are all over the credit meltdown.
That's the thing about lobbyists: they serve no ideological master. It's not about right vs left or Democrats vs Republicans. It's only about the bottom line -- ie pushing their special interests, no matter how much it undermines the public interest. No wonder they are as likely to incur the wrath of the Wall Street Journal as Mother Jones.
Last year, 15,000 registered lobbyists spent more than $3.25 billion trying to sway Congress. This year has brought even more of the same. Oil and gas companies spent $44.5 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies in the first quarter of 2009 -- more than a third of the $129 million they spent in all of 2008, which in itself was a 73 percent increase from two years before. Medical insurers and drug companies are also digging deep: 20 of the biggest health insurance and drug companies spent nearly a combined $35 million in Q1 -- a 41 percent increase from the same quarter last year.
All that spending has proven to be money disturbingly well spent.
Take energy policy. President Obama arrived at the White House promising prompt and far-reaching policies on climate change. But the energy bill currently winding its way through Congress, officially called the American Clean Energy and Security Act, is in danger of becoming considerably less, uh, clean. As HuffPost's Ryan Grim reported last week, the coal lobby may be on the verge of a big victory -- essentially gutting the Clean Air Act by taking away the executive branch's authority, through the EPA, to regulate carbon emissions at the nation's dirtiest coal plants.
But, wait, you may be thinking, isn't the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which cut the deal with the coal industry, controlled by Democrats? As I said, lobbying isn't a Democrat vs Republican issue.
The Dems on the Homeland Security Committee are also killing a key provision in a chemical security bill. Art Levine has the details.
The story is very familiar: new rules are announced proclaiming a better, safer system for the future. But then industry lobbyists howl about "loss of jobs," and "decreased competitiveness," so waivers are added. Then some exemptions. Then some loopholes. Then authority to enforce the new rules is limited. By the time the bill hits the floor, it's still got the word "Reform" or "Clean" or "Safety" in the name, but the finished product is all about maintaining the status quo. And a very stubborn status quo it is. For instance, the reason a new chemical safety bill is needed is because this exact process of gutting reform happened in 2001.
Which brings us to health care and the reform-killing armada currently steaming towards Washington. Their attack is shaping up to be unprecedented. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has pledged $100 million to defeat reform -- while, of course, calling it reform.
Much of the battle will be focused on the so-called public option, which the American Medical Association has already given a cold shoulder to, telling Congress it "does not believe creating a public health insurance option... is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs." Indeed, the AMA has been steeling itself for this battle. Since the 2000 election, it has doled out almost $10 million to congressional candidates."