By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and contributing editor at AmericaBlog. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook. Cross posted from AmericaBlog
One more data point on Obama and the ACA (the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare) story before we move on.
Via this comment (thanks Bill_Perdue) from our previous post on the subject — “Unions say Obama betrayed them on ACA rollout“ — we have a dollar amount on the money received by Obama in 2008, just ahead of his 2009 rollout of the ACA, later called “Obamacare,” his signature health insurance proposal.
The amount paid by the health industry to Obama campaign coffers? $20,000,000. Twenty million big ones, in words.
Here’s Raw Story with the story (my emphasis throughout):
Obama received $20 million from healthcare industry in 2008 campaign
While some sunlight has been shed on the hefty sums shoveled into congressional campaign coffers in an effort to influence the Democrats’ massive healthcare bill, little attention has been focused on the far larger sums received by President Barack Obama while he was a candidate in 2008.
A new figure, based on an exclusive analysis created for Raw Story by the Center for Responsive Politics, shows that President Obama received a staggering $20,175,303 from the healthcare industry during the 2008 election cycle, nearly three times the amount of his presidential rival John McCain. McCain took in $7,758,289, the Center found.
The new figure, obtained by Raw Story through an independent custom research request performed by the Center for Responsive Politics — a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics — is the most comprehensive breakdown yet available of healthcare industry contributions to Obama during the 2008 election cycle.
While the headline number is pretty interesting, the article goes on to articulate why. It was written in 2010, after the dollar amount became available, but also after the effect of that money became visible. That effect — the ACA itself.
First, look at the breadth of sub-industries who donated:
The Center’s best estimate of health insurance donation (not included above) is $712,317, but that number looks way low to me, especially considering how things played out.
Did Obama Seek Those Donations Based on a Policy “Preview”?
The usual explanation for these big corporate donations is a variant of “covering their bases” with a prospective winner. This makes the campaign donations essentially a defensive “play,” to borrow Wall Street investor slang. Raw Story:
[W]hen you look at it just on its own merit … Obama definitely has a relationship with the health sector,” Dave Levinthal [the Center's communication director] told Raw Story. “When you raise $20 million from one group, obviously they’ve curried some favor with you and you have a lot of people in that sector who support you. … People want to be able to curry favor with those who are in power,” he added. “And one way to do that is by making donations to candidates and officials who are represented by the party in power. Or who look like they’re going to win.”
That’s certainly one way to look at it — pre-emptive bribery, or the pay-first plan for access to the new government’s shell-like ear.
But that street has two entrances. What if Team Yes We Can already knew they were going to “go big” on health care reform — which quickly devolved into “health insurance” reform — before election day? Could they not have gone around to this same industry and asked for the donations, based on some wink-wink heads-up on the 2009 health push?
Notice that the change from pre-election “health care” reform to just “health insurance” reform post-election preserved the profits of the actual health-care industries, whose pricing power would go untouched, while at the same time it hugely boosted the profits of the health-insurance companies, who would end up with a zillion new customers, thanks to the mandate and a neutered public option.
From Norm Solomon, quoted in the article:
We don’t hear so much now about ‘healthcare reform. We’re hearing a lot more about ‘health insurance reform.’ And that is absolutely in large measure driven by the White House. … The funding from the healthcare industry to the Obama campaign, in retrospect, was not misplaced. It appears, based on policy, that those funders are getting what they would’ve hoped for. …
Whichever you believe, the pre-emptive bribery explanation or the pre-election preview of policy explanation, the results were the same.
Did Post-Election Obama Tank Single-Payer, After Pre-Election Obama Praised It?
And then there’s this, from Solomon again:
Let me put it this way. Single-payer advocates literally couldn’t get into the White House. And you have [chief pharmaceutical industry lobbyist and former Republican congressman] Billy Tauzin and Big Pharma and all of these in-depth strategy meetings in the White House in mid-2009 cutting deals.
We’ve heard that before, right? That Obama praised single payer before entering office, and tanked it afterward. Let’s test that, see if there are more sources for the allegation.
First, pre-election Obama, speaking in 2003 as a U.S. Senate candidate:
“I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program.” (applause) “I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. … A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see.
But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”
Interestingly, he was speaking to a union audience, the AFL-CIO. Did they buy it? Yes they did.
Now let’s look at post-election Obama. These two pieces (as well as the union link above) come to us from a recent article in PandoDaily by David Sirota, who quotes other sources. I’ll present both quotes, and let you draw your own conclusions. The first is a statement made to NPR’s Morning Edition in June 2009 by Kathleen Sebelius:
Sebelius: Single-Payer Health Care Not In Plans
As lawmakers on Capitol Hill hammer out legislation to overhaul the nation’s health care system this year, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says that a single-payer option is not on the table. …
Asked if the administration’s program will be drafted specifically to prevent it from evolving into a single-payer plan, Sebelius says: “I think that’s very much the case, and again, if you want anybody to convince people of that, talk to the single-payer proponents who are furious that the single-payer idea is not part of the discussion.”
That seems telling. Then there’s the story that ex-Montana governor Brian Sweitzer told to MSNBC. Here’s MSNBC’s version:
In August 2009, the president traveled to Montana to deliver a speech touting health care reform. His efforts to transform the health care system were then under siege from the tea party movement, which warned of a European-style “government takeover” of health care and spread myths of federal “death panels” to execute the infirm. So Schweitzer raised a few eyebrows when he introduced Obama by declaring his [Sweitzer's] unabashed love for Canada’s government-run health care program.
[Sweitzer speaking] “Did you know that, just 300 miles north of here, did you know they offered universal health care 62 years ago?” he said. He praised Tommy Douglas, father of the country’s health program, who, he noted, was named in a TV poll the greatest Canadian in history – nine spots ahead of Wayne Gretzky.
Minutes later, the president used his own speech to declare, “I’m not in favor of a Canadian system, I’m not in favor of a British system, I’m not in favor of a French system. What we’ve said is, let’s find a uniquely American system.”…
After the speeches were over, Obama sat Schweitzer down for a private talk. According to Schweitzer, the president said his voice wasn’t helping the health care debate and asked him to step away.
According to another report of the same 2009 event, we find this:
Obama said the majority of people in America get health insurance through their employers, and “we want to build on that. For us to completely change that, it would be too disruptive,” he continued. “Max (Baucus) and I agree, that [single payer is] not the right way to go.”
Max Baucus’s role, and the role of Jim Messina, Baucus’ former aide and Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, is detailed here. It’s not a pretty story.
This is likely not new to many of you, but I wanted to fill in the picture before leaving the subject. All sorts of groups are having problems with the reality of ACA, just as many others are very glad for the improvement in their lives and finances. Whatever your own “on balance” conclusion though, there can be no doubt now what “health insurance reform” was designed to do. And those big campaign contributions, whoever initiated them, tell a big part of the tale.