Lobbyists Writing Healthcare Bill Is Smart, Republicans Still Ready to Shout NO!

Ted Kennedy is being smart about preparing a healthcare bill, but the GOP stays out.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I'm shocked—shocked!—to hear that lobbyists are involved in drafting healthcare reform legislation on the Hill. Has someone told the White House that villainous lobbyists have wormed their way in to the president's other, other top priority??

This morning's New York Times report on how Ted Kennedy and his staff are pulling together health legislation is illuminating for three reasons:

- Kennedy learned the Hillary Clinton healthcare lesson. In 1993, Mrs. Clinton talked to a lot of people but kept the actual drafting of her bill in a tight circle within the White House. When the Clintons unveiled the plan it was too complicated and had few natural allies on the Hill and on K Street—no one outside the White House felt they had ownership or a stake in the bill. And the Clinton administration compounded the problem demonizing the healthcare industry. A bloated, lumbering bill with few allies is a ripe target.

The Kennedy approach gets buy-in from key interests that could sink a big bill: the AARP, the AMA, the Business Roundtable, the NFIB, the Chamber of Commerce.

  • Despite the silly presidential rhetoric on lobbyists, they remain central to legislative sausage-making. But that rhetoric opens up the administration, again, to criticism for letting lobbyists into the process, when letting them in is smart politics (see point one).
  • Who's missing? The Republicans, of course. Note: By their own choice.

Employers and insurers tend to agree with Republicans more often than Democrats on health policy, and business lobbyists have implored Republicans to participate in the talks.

But so far Republican aides have stayed away from the sessions, saying they felt they would be relegated to a secondary role, with no opportunity to set the agenda or choose the outside participants.

Ummm. Note to Senate Republicans: We've had elections; Democrats won most of them; they get to set the agenda. Now this isn't a binary situation: It's not either you set the agenda or your mute. By taking its place at the big square table, the GOP could affect the agenda. And the product. But of course Republicans would risk actually having to buy into the resulting bill.

A business lobbyist involved in the talks said: "The lack of acrimony, the air of cooperation toward a common end, is quite refreshing. If the Republicans were a party to these intense discussions, that would ease the path to enacting health care reform."

Republicans are reserving their right to shout their new favorite word: "No!"

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