My Latest

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Obama, who "excluded lobbyists," has appointed 50

Remember how President Obama claimed "we have excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs"? Well, his recess appointments over the weekend included lobbyists No. 47, 48, 49, and 50. My column tells the tale:
President Obama used his recess-appointment power to place four former federal lobbyists -- representing defense contractors and the agri-chemical industry among others -- in top policy jobs. Obama's maneuver dodges a Senate floor debate and sweeps under the rug an inauspicious milestone: The appointment of the 50th lobbyist to a policymaking job by a president who claims he's "excluded" them.
And here's my list of the former lobbyists in policymaking jobs in the Obama administration.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Health-care lobbying now a chronic condition in Washington

So, if you think we're done with the lobbying scrum over health care, think again. My column sounds a dark warning:
If you're an insurer, a drug maker, a hospital, a doctor, a device maker, a pharmacist, an employer or a union boss, you don't know what the future will hold.
Maybe Congress will boost the fine on individuals and employers for not buying your product. Maybe Congress will raise or lower the special new excise tax they've levied on your industry. Maybe they'll require insurers to cover your procedure, or maybe they won't.
The one thing you know for sure: Government will never again leave you alone.
As the once and future Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel likes to put it, "Everything is on the table." That means you'd better pay your admission: hire Henry Waxman's legislative director as your lobbyist, contribute to Max Baucus' re-election or Charlie Rangel's legal defense fund, retain Tom Daschle as your consultant, or become a stage prop for President Obama's next "jobs bill."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Obama gives sugar plums to the special interests

Obama signed health-care reform, and the special interests won. My column:
"Tonight," President Obama intoned near midnight Sunday, after the House had passed two health care bills, "we pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. ... We proved that this government -- a government of the people and by the people -- still works for the people."
But even before the president spoke, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America -- whose $26.1 million lobbying effort in 2009 was the most expensive by any industry lobby in history -- hailed the health package as "important and historic."
The second-biggest industry lobby in America, the American Medical Association, also cheered, as did the American Hospital Association, the No. 5 industry lobby. Throw in the goliath senior lobby AARP and Beltway powerhouse General Electric, and you realize Obama's underdog tale is all bark and no bite.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Student loans get the ObamaCare treatment

It's fitting that student loans would be nationalized in a bill that lays out subsidies for the private health sector while paving a road to its elimination. My column today discusses the pairing:
In Chicago, the legend goes, whenever Mayor Daley needed a quick infusion of cash, he would order a "street sweeping." After the evening rush hour, city workers would post signs warning of a street sweeping at dawn the next day -- any car parked on the street would be slapped with a ticket.
Congressional Democrats' version of "street sweeping" is nationalizing an industry and folding its profits into the budget, thus partly paying for some radical expansion of government -- health care reform in this case.
The budget reconciliation bill being used as a sidecar to the Senate health care bill also contains a federal takeover of the student loan industry....
Over the next decade, between reduced subsidies to private lenders and interest collected from students, the expected profit is $60 billion. Student aid would be increased by about $40 billion, leaving the U.S. Treasury $19.4 billion in the black thanks to this takeover. That profit gets counted toward the reconciliation bill's score from the Congressional Budget Office, and voila! more deficit reduction from the health care reform bill.
If only Democrats had thought of this trick back in the spring, they could have budgeted in the nationalization of other profitable industries. Throw the porn industry into the Department of Health and Human Services and nationalize Exxon Mobil, and your budget score looks even better.
Why not put Goldman Sachs on the budget so that Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, in a reversal of roles, would be working for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dems tap drug maker millions for PhRMA-friendly bill

Obama keeps talking as if "the special interests" are battling against his "reform." That's simply not true. My column tells the true tale:
Of all the single-industry lobbies in Washington, the largest is the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America. PhRMA spent $26.2 million on lobbying last year — that's nearly three times as much as the insurance lobby, America's Health Insurance Plans, which spent $8.9 million.
If you include individual companies' lobbying, pharmaceuticals blow away the competition, beating all other industries by 50 percent, according to data at the Center for Responsive Politics.
Given this Big Pharma clout, it's unsurprising that the bill Obama's whipping for — Senate bill — has nearly everything the drug companies wanted: prohibiting reimportation of drugs, preserving Medicare's overpayment for drugs, lengthy exclusivity for biotech drugs, a mandate that states subsidize drugs under Medicaid, hundreds of billions in subsidies for drugs, and more.
PhRMA chief Billy Tauzin, who was vilified by Obama on the campaign trail, worked out much of this sweetheart deal in a West Wing meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Tauzin visited the White House at least 11 times. He left his imprint so deeply on the current bill that it should probably be called BillyCare rather than ObamaCare....
This week, PhRMA, through a front group called Americans for Stable Quality Care, is rolling out millions of dollars in advertisements for the Democrats' jury-rigged package consisting of the BillyCare bill and some as-yet-undetermined "budget reconciliation" measure. The ads reportedly will target wavering Democrats.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Obama's export plan imports Europe's corporatism

I attended the annual conference of the Export-Import Bank, and what I saw wasn't pretty. My column today paints the picture:
"Germany is the model."
General Electric Chief Executive Officer Jeff Immelt, opening for President Obama at the annual conference of the federal export-subsidy agency, phrased Obama's industrial policy in terms that were not quite as focus-grouped as the president's.
Immelt was at the Export-Import Bank's conference rallying the troops behind Obama's National Export Initiative, aimed at doubling U.S. exports in five years. Immelt praised Germany and Japan's policies of "government and business working as a pack."
The GE CEO lamented that "for so long, we've said, 'It just doesn't matter. Let whatever happens happen.' "
But in Germany, Immelt pointed out, Chancellor Angela Merkel huddles with corporate leaders and says, "Let's kick some rear." The Germans exhibit stronger "public will" and national "vision," Immelt says. "The companies roam as a pack. They stick together. And the government supports the companies to be exporters."...
"If we stand on the sidelines," the president said Thursday, "while they [China and Germany] go after those customers, we'll lose out on the chance to create the good jobs our workers need right here at home. That's why standing on the sidelines is not what we intend to do. ... We need to up our game."
By "up our game," Obama largely means increase government subsidies for exporters -- greater taxpayer funding for export promotion programs, new "public-private partnerships" and more aggressive government advocacy.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boeing gets tailwind from subsidy bank

Think Big Business fears Big Government? My column should help dismiss that notion:
A government agency that finances U.S. exports directed 90 of its loan guarantees last year to subsidize one company: Boeing.
Before President Obama unfurls his export-promotion plan at the Export-Import Bank's annual conference this Thursday, he should review the agency's recent annual report, which documents an unparalleled case of corporate welfare -- a government program dedicated almost entirely to serving one well-connected company.
Of the $9.3 billion in loan guarantees Ex-Im issued in fiscal 2009, $8.4 billion subsidized Boeing sales....
Candidate Obama assailed government policy that enriched the wealthiest in the hope that "somehow prosperity will trickle down." But this is this mission of Ex-Im -- subsidize Boeing's profits in an effort to create jobs.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The cautionary tale of the student loan industry

The student loan industry will soon be dead. Other subsidy sucklers should learn a lesson here. My column teaches the lesson:
But this nationalization should serve as a cautionary tale for others — such as health insurers and the tourism industry — looking to latch onto Leviathan’s teat.

For a business, getting in bed with Uncle Sam is like marrying Henry VIII — you may reap benefits you never could have gotten on your own, but history suggests the affair won’t end well for you.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cashing out of the Obama Administration

The revolving door Obama pledged to "close" -- it's still spinning. My column:
A top aide to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has cashed out this week, joining a lobbying and consulting firm with a client list that includes the nation's largest banks.

Damon Munchus is at least the third top Obama official who has exited the administration through the revolving door that opens to K Street -- in keeping with President Obama's ethics rules, but contrary to his clean-government rhetoric. The White House Web site last April stated that Obama was "cracking down on special interests and, in particular, lobbying abuses," by issuing "the toughest rules in history closing the revolving door between K Street and the executive branch." But he hasn't "closed" that door.