The New(s) Access Brokers: So Much for the “Impartial Center”

When Dan Froomkin described on Tuesday why the oldtimers at the WaPo had him fired, he spoke a lot about the Holy Grail of the impartial center. Granted, Froomkin described the now-departed Len Downie as that cult’s High Priest. Nevertheless, it sounds like that "impartial center" can be bought for $25,000 to $250,000 a shot.

For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post is offering lobbyists and association executives off-the-record, nonconfrontational access to "those powerful few" — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer is detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he feels it’s a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff."

The offer — which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator for private lobbyist-official encounters — is a new sign of the lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most newspapers are struggling for survival.

Now, Mike Allen skewers his former employer, the WaPo, pretty seriously (and deservedly) for this.

"Washington Post Salons are extensions of The Washington Post brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard," the flier says. "At the core is a critical topic of our day. Dinner and a volley of ideas unfold in an evening of intelligent, news-driven and off-the-record conversation. … By bringing together those powerful few in business and policy-making who are forwarding, legislating and reporting on the issues, Washington Post Salons give life to the debate. Be at this nexus of business and policy with your underwriting of Washington Post Salons."

But I want to know about the other side of the equation. Which members of Congress and the Administration have agreed to participate? Did they know of the payoffs the lobbyists will make to host the events? And did the politicians expect anything in return? Or will they just be able to order up some WaPo scolding every time citizens demand real health care reform of their elected representatives? In other words, what is clear from this is that the WaPo doesn’t give a shit about neutrality, they care only about an illusion of "objectivity." But what remains unclear is the rest of the equation–just how the Read more

Jello Jay Rockefeller on the Public Option

A number of people have been expressing pleasant surprise at Jello Jay’s recent comments on the public option:

"We can’t count on insurance companies. They are just maximizing their profits. They are sticking it to consumers.

"I am all for letting insurance companies compete. But I want them to compete in a system that offers real health-care insurance. I call it a public plan," Rockefeller said….

Government-backed programs are big enough to bring medical costs down, Rockefeller believes.

"Back in 1993, all our Veterans Administration hospitals got together and agreed to buy prescription drugs as a group. The next week, the costs of those drugs went down by 50 percent.

"Today, the insurance industry runs this whole deal, spending $1.4 million every day to fight health-insurance reform. The government has a lot of power to lower prices," Rockefeller said….

"We have a moral choice. This is a classic case of the good guys versus the bad guys. I know it is not political for me to say that," Rockefeller added.

"But do you want to be non-partisan and get nothing? Or do you want to be partisan and end up with a good health- care plan? That is the choice." [my emphasis]

Now, I am happy to hear Jello Jay talk like a Democrat, demand that we put people’s interest ahead of corporations.

And I think the commentary on Jello Jay’s aggressive words here often forgets the "politics is local" rule: while every state (save maybe insurance-heavy states like CT) would benefit from the implementation of real health care reform, West Virginia no doubt really could use it.

That said, I am also cognizant of a little historical detail. The most "important" legislative act Jello Jay did last year, for his own career, was to shepherd the FISA Amendment Act through Congress (yeah, "important" is in scare quotes). And the single most important event that brought about Jello Jay’s success came when then-candidate Obama flip-flopped on his promises to oppose retroactive immunity, and with that flip-flop signaled to the rest of the caucus it was time to support the bill.

Candidate Obama saved Jello Jay’s legislative butt last summer (much to our chagrin).

One of Candidate Obama’s earliest Senate backers, of course, was Jello Jay. A guy who loudly supported Obama even when his state voted in large numbers against him in the primary.

Well, here we are with President Obama, revving up the fight for his most important legislative project. Read more

Is This Healthcare Reform Or Just Assistance To Health Corps?

I have a busy morning here, but want to draw attention to an article this morning in the New York Times by Robert Pear on the ongoing discussions of healthcare reform for the United States:

Since last fall, many of the leading figures in the nation’s long-running health care debate have been meeting secretly in a Senate hearing room. Now, with the blessing of the Senate’s leading proponent of universal health insurance, Edward M. Kennedy, they appear to be inching toward a consensus that could reshape the debate.

Many of the parties, from big insurance companies to lobbyists for consumers, doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, are embracing the idea that comprehensive health care legislation should include a requirement that every American carry insurance.

“There seems to be a sense of the room that some form of tax penalty is an effective means to enforce such an obligation, though only on those for whom affordable coverage is available,” said the memorandum, prepared by David C. Bowen, a neurobiologist who is director of the health staff at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The proposal for an individual mandate was one of the few policy disagreements between Mr. Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton in their fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. She wanted to require everyone to have and maintain insurance. He said he wanted to “ensure affordable coverage for all,” but would initially apply the mandate only to children.

The 20 people who regularly attend the meetings on Capitol Hill include lobbyists for AARP, Aetna, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Business Roundtable, Easter Seals, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the United States Chamber Read more

Henry’s Dates: Medicare Part D

One of the reasons it was so unwise for Tony Fratto to open his big fat mouth today regarding the White House habit of losing emails is because it offered Waxman an excuse to make previously unreleased information publicly available–an excuse Waxman was not about to turn down. Waxman released a chunk of dates for which offices in the White House have no archived email (note, this list does not appear to include all of the dates for which there is no email, nor does it include dates for which the email volume is smaller than it should be).

For the White House Office: December 17, 2003, December 20, 2003, December 21, 2003, January 9, 2004, January 10, 2004, January 11, 2004, January 29, 2004, February 1, 2004, February 2, 2004, February 3, 2004, February 7, 2004, and February 8, 2004.

For the Office of the Vice President: September 12, 2003, October 1, 2003, October 2, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 5, 2003, January 29, 2004, January 30, 2004, January 31, 2004, February 7, 2004, February 8, 2004, February 15, 2005, February 16, 2005, February 17, 2005, May 21, 2005, May 22, 2005, May 23, 2005.

For the Council on Environmental Quality: 81 days, including the entire period between November 1, 2003 through January 11, 2004.

For the Council of Economic Advisers: 103 days, including the entire period between November 2, 2003 through January 11, 2004.

For the Office of Management and Budget: 59 days, including the entire period between November 1, 2003 through December 9, 2003.

For the U.S. Trade Representative: 73 days, including the entire period between February 11, 2004 through April 18, 2004.

And as a good weedy blogger, I thought this a wonderful opportunity to try to figure out any significance for the dates.

I’m going to go back and look out how the dates for the WH and OVP correlate with the Plame investigation. But for now, I’d like to raise one red flag regarding the dates as it pertains to the missing email: All the emails from OMB for the period covering the lead-up to and immediate aftermath of the passage of Medicare Part D are gone. Read more

GOP Offer Healthcare to All Those without Pre-Existing Conditions

According to the LAT, the GOP presidential candidates have come up with a brilliant way of offering insurance to the uninsured: leave out those with pre-existing conditions, including people with medical histories just like the candidates’ themselves.

When Rudolph W. Giuliani was diagnosed with prostate cancer in thespring of 2000, one thing he did not have to worry about was a lack ofmedical insurance.

Today, the former New York mayor joins two other cancer survivors inseeking the Republican presidential nomination: Arizona Sen. JohnMcCain has been treated for melanoma, the most serious type of skinmalignancy, and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson had lymphoma, acancer of the immune system.

All three have offered proposals with the stated aim of helping the 47million people in the U.S. who have no health insurance, includingthose with preexisting medical conditions.

But under the plans all three have put forward, cancer survivors suchas themselves could not be sure of getting coverage — especially ifthey were not already covered by a government or job-related plan andhad to seek insurance as individuals.

"Unless it’s in a state that has very strong consumer protections, theywould likely be denied coverage," said economist Paul Fronstin of theEmployee Benefit Research Institute, who has reviewed the candidates’proposals. "People with preexisting conditions would not be able to getcoverage or would not be able to afford it."

I was drawn to the Read more

Lobbyist Logic

I know you have all been worried at my seeming recovery from my obsession with Ed Gillespie. But worry not–the dearth of Gillespie posts was mostly explained by my travel schedule (which gets really bad again this week, then gets better), and not any disinterest in the guy who took over after they fired Bush’s brain.

And this, I guess, is the kind of logic you get from the Lobbyist-in-Chief with which they replaced Bush’s brain, from this NYT article chronicling how glum Republicans are at their diminishing (political) fortunes.

At the White House, administration officials urged CongressionalRepublicans to try to remain positive and ride out the current turmoil.Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Mr. Bush, told the visitors,according to multiple accounts, that had Republicans sided withDemocrats on the health program, they would have opened themselves towithering criticism from conservatives and been in a worse positionthan they are now.

Let’s see… "had Republicans sided with Democrats" on the S-CHIP vote. I wonder how Representatives Tom Davis, Heather Wilson, and Don Young feel about that assertion, since they were among the 45 Republicans in the House who voted for S-CHIP? Perhaps it’s no accident that Tom Davis is one of the Republicans quoted as Read more

Senate Minority Leader Fuels the Flames

ThinkProgress got the email that Mitch McConnell’s staffer claimed he had not sent out.

Seen the latest blogswarm? Apparently, there’s more to the story on thekid (Graeme Frost) that did the Dems’ radio response on SCHIP. Bloggershave done a little digging and turned up that the Dad owns his ownbusiness (and the building it’s in), seems to have some commercialrental income and Graeme and a sister go to a private school that,according to its website, costs about $20k a year ‹for each kid‹despite the news profiles reporting a family income of only $45k forthe Frosts. Could the Dems really have done that bad of a job vettingthis family?

Gosh. You think maybe the mainstream press, which claims to pride itself on its accuracy, will admit that this smear was not solely blog-driven?

Don’t answer that.

Chuck Grassley Agrees with the Netroots

Like many of us, Grassley argues that if you bring an issue that has widespread support among the electorate up for a vote often enough, you will eventually convince intransigent Republicans to vote for it.

Grassley said if he were the Democrats, he would send the SCHIPexpansion to a vote every three months, along with campaignadvertisements accusing Republicans of abandoning children. That way,pressure would mount either on Bush to sign the bill or on HouseRepublicans to override the veto.

Of course, Grassley is referring to SCHIP and not the Iraq War. But the comment–and the article more generally–is worthwhile nonetheless. For Grassley states clearly that the Bush Administration is willing to sustain awful policy outcomes to make an ideological point.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and White Houseaides agreed that Bush’s opposition to the legislation stems not fromits price tag but from far larger health policy issues. The White Housewants to use the issue of uninsured children to resurrect thepresident’s long-dormant proposals to change the federal tax code tohelp the uninsured, adults and children alike, Grassley said, callingthat a laudable goal but unrealistic politically.


Asked if Bush was holding the children’s health bill hostage, Grassley said, "Yes."

The reporter should have posed that last question Read more

Medicare Giveaways!

No, not to the seniors enrolled in Medicare, silly! To the private insurance companies. Yet another GAO report has found yet another contracting scam that BushCo is ignoring.

Private insurance companies participating in Medicarehave been allowed to keep tens of millions of dollars that should havegone to consumers, and the Bush administration did not properly auditthe companies or try to recover money paid in error, Congressionalinvestigators say in a new report.

What’s remarkable about this though, is it is at least the third incidence where–when faced with accounting improprieties from a corporation working with the government–the Bush Administration refuses to ask for the money back.