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Tom Engelhardt: The Washington Influence Machine

September 16, 2009

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Congressman Joe (“You lie!”) Wilson is undoubtedly not completely ignorant about how our health care system actually works. After all, in the course of his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, he’s received $244,196 in contributions from the health-care profession — and that doesn’t even count another $86,150 from the pharmaceutical industry or the $68,000 that came in from hospitals and nursing homes. In fact, if you go to the page at that organization’s OpenSecrets.org website on Congressional contributions and start clicking around among the members of Congress, you’ll be struck by how many times the health and pharmaceutical industries (and their lobbyists) pop up.

It’s not so surprising, of course, since there are staggering sums of money at stake, which means striking amounts of the same to inject like some potent drug directly into the bloodstream of our political system. Consider but one figure: since 2002, according to Harper’s Magazine, the profits of the top 10 health insurance companies have increased by 428%. And the CEOs of those top insurers have a personal incentive for ensuring that those profits don’t slide due to new health-care legislation; after all, they made a combined $690 million in the last nine years.

In fact, any administration arriving in Washington wanting to do anything these days walks into a blizzard of money, not to speak of the fact that the wind at its back, the campaign wind that got it there, was already blowing strong with similar contributions. TomDispatch regular Andy Kroll offers a vivid portrait of that world at this moment and what it means for the Obama administration:

“Health care may be the most striking example of what’s been going on in Obama-era Washington, but this sort of lobbying onslaught actually extends to Obama’s whole agenda. Almost 2,400 lobbyists are, for instance, working on financial industry-related issues like the White House’s proposed financial-regulation and consumer-protection reforms. Influential players, among them the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable, have already spent a staggering $222 million on lobbying in just the first half of 2009. The Chamber of Commerce, in particular, ranks first this year in finance-related lobbying (total spending: $26.2 million; total number of lobbyists employed: 167). A senior director for the Chamber of Commerce, which vehemently opposes a White House-proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency that would consolidate authority over credit cards, mortgages, loans, and other consumer products into one centralized regulator, pulled no punches in a comment offered to Reuters: ‘We are working to kill the bill.'”

Read all of “Obama vs. the Lobbyists: A Scorecard for the Future of American Politics” by Andy Kroll at Tomdispatch.com.

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This essay originally appeared at Tomdispatch.com

engelhardt_photo.jpgTom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt

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