By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Saturday, the New York Times reported on its website that in the healthcare reform debate, "Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world's largest biotechnology companies."
The outrage on the talk shows began immediately. This morning, MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan kept a running tally of the number of lawmakers caught using the Genentech talking points on a big billboard-type graphic—22 Republicans and 20 Democrats.
While the media was professing shock at this, the working stiffs I know in town were privately laughing. That's because, as an unnamed lobbyist told the New York Times, "This happens all the time. There was nothing nefarious about it." He or she is right. Working as a speechwriter here in Washington, D.C., I can't tell you how many times I've been hired to write similar press statements, opinion editorials, and talking points on any number of issues. That's what lobbyists and public relations firms here in Washington do—they try to get lawmakers to agree with their clients' positions, and they try to get them to say so publicly. The ones who drafted the statements were just doing their jobs.
The problem is not that lobbyists wrote press statements and talking points. The problem is that lawmakers—and really, their staffs—did not reword the boilerplate language and make it their own. The lobbyists were doing their jobs; the lawmakers weren't.
So was it just laziness? Or are members and their staffs too overworked to drill down and do it right? Maybe it's both: Maybe they're too overwhelmed to understand healthcare reform without help from the outside, and so they took the easy way out. I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing is going on with the economic bailouts, cap-and-trade, and any number of issues we're dealing with these days. Life is complicated lately in Washington, and I'm sure it is overwhelming at times.
No matter what the reason, the fact is that the people in the center of all this—the ones who have to write the legislation and vote on it—are relying word-for-word on what others tell them instead of analyzing the issue for themselves. That says something.
Maybe what it says is that this is all too much, too soon, too fast.