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Health industry a big donor to deficit reduction panel members

An advocacy group says Senator Max Baucus is a leader in health industry contributions. An advocacy group says Senator Max Baucus is a leader in health industry contributions. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
September 8, 2011

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WASHINGTON - The new congressional panel assigned to tame the deficit will have to squeeze Medicare and Medicaid for any chance of success. But health care industries that depend on those programs have invested millions over the years to woo its members.

Doctors, drug makers, hospitals, and health insurers have contributed $17 million since 1989 to the individual campaigns of lawmakers now on the debt supercommittee, a new analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics finds.

Health professionals - an industry category dominated by doctors - rank among the top 10 sources of campaign dollars for all but two of the 12 lawmakers.

The findings reinforce expectations that the panel may tinker with the government’s giant health care programs but not revamp them.

The center ranks contributions to lawmakers from political action committees and individuals associated with more than 80 industries, from defense contractors to energy to farming. The study of health care money was conducted for the Associated Press.

The supercommittee, which includes Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Democrat, is scheduled to hold its first meeting today. Major changes to Medicare and Medicaid are fraught with political risk if they anger seniors.

But there is also a tempting fallback that would avoid tough choices.

The same law that created the bipartisan panel of six Democrats and six Republicans calls for automatic spending cuts if the committee falls short. For Medicare, that could add up to a 2 percent across-the-board reduction in payments to service providers. Medicaid, which serves the poor, would not be cut.

The analysis found that Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was the clear leader in health care industry contributions. Doctors, drug companies and hospitals all ranked among his top 10 sources of contributions, approaching $3.2 million since 1989.

Associated Press

Wall Street Journal faults Romney’s economic plan The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page is a traditional supporter of conservative social and economic policy, offered a less-than-glowing review of the jobs plan unveiled Tuesday by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The 160-page plan and its 59 proposals, the Journal wrote in an editorial yesterday, “strike us as surprisingly timid and tactical considering our economic predicament.’’

The editorial added: “They’re a technocrat’s guide more than a reform manifesto.’’

Nonetheless, the editorial praises Romney’s plan as an improvement over President Obama’s. But, it adds, Romney “ducks and covers more than he needs to’’ on taxes, spending, entitlements, and trade.

For example, it notes the former Massachusetts governor commits to capping government spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product, but does not say how to do so.

Shira Schoenberg

Rivalry is getting heated between Texas contenders WASHINGTON - A Texas-sized rivalry is brewing in the Republican presidential contest.

Representative Ron Paul is calling Governor Rick Perry “Al Gore’s Texas cheerleader’’ for once working in support of the Democrat. Perry’s team, in turn, is branding Paul a turncoat for once leaving the GOP.

The two Texans, who never have been particularly close, have seen their standings in the GOP field recently rise. Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican who has a strong legion of die-hard supporters and a big bank account, came within 152 votes of winning an important test vote in Iowa on the same day that Perry, who leads in several national polls, entered the race to great fanfare among the party’s conservative base.

Last week, Paul likened Perry to a “candidate of the week’’ and predicted Perry’s poll numbers would fall quickly once voters got to know him better. “Texas has had a lot of changes in these last eight years, not exactly positive either,’’ he said.

And Perry aides dug up and distributed Paul’s 1987 letter of resignation from the Republican Party.

In it, Paul wrote, “I want to totally disassociate myself from the policies that have given us unprecedented deficits, massive monetary inflation, indiscriminate military spending, an irrational and unconstitutional foreign policy, zooming foreign aid, the exaltation of international banking, and the attack on our personal liberties and privacy.’’

Associated Press