Tag: lobbyists

How Does It Feel to Be at the Table Now?

On Monday, the Obama administration held a well-publicized love-fest with lobbyists for the health care industry.  It turns out that rather than a “game-changer,” the event was a fraud.  And the industry got burned.

At the time, President Obama called it a “a watershed event in the long and elusive quest for health care reform”:

Over the next 10 years — from 2010 to 2019 — [these industry lobbyists] are pledging to cut the rate of growth of national health care spending by 1.5 percentage points each year — an amount that’s equal to over $2 trillion.

By an amazing coincidence, $2 trillion is just enough to pay for Obama’s proposed government takeover of the health care sector.

Yet The New York Times reports that isn’t the magnitude of spending reductions the lobbyists thought they were supporting:

Hospitals and insurance companies said Thursday that President Obama had substantially overstated their promise earlier this week to reduce the growth of health spending… [C]onfusion swirled in Washington as the companies’ trade associations raced to tamp down angst among members around the country.

Health care leaders who attended the meeting…say they agreed to slow health spending in a more gradual way and did not pledge specific year-by-year cuts…

My initial reaction to Monday’s fairly transparent media stunt was: “I smell a rat.  Lobbyists never advocate less revenue for their members.  Ever.” The lobbyists are proving me right, albeit slowly.  (Take your time, guys.  I don’t mind.)

The Obama administration seems a little less clear on that rule.  Again, The New York Times:

Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said “the president misspoke” on Monday and again on Wednesday when he described the industry’s commitment in similar terms. After providing that account, Ms. DeParle called back about an hour later on Thursday and said: “I don’t think the president misspoke. His remarks correctly and accurately described the industry’s commitment.”

How did the industry find itself in this position? Politico reports:

The group of six organizations with a major stake in health care…had been working in secret for several weeks on a savings plan.

But they learned late last week that the White House wanted to go public with the coalition. One health care insider said: “It came together more quickly than it should have.” A health-care lobbyist said the participants weren’t prepared to go live with the news over the weekend, when the news of a deal, including the $2 trillion savings claim, was announced by White House officials to reporters.

Gosh, it’s almost like the White House strong-armed the lobbyists in order to create a false sense of agreement and momentum.  Pay no attention to that discord behind the curtain!

At the time, I also hypothesized that this “agreement” was a clever ploy by all parties to pressure a recalcitrant Congressional Budget Office to assume that the Democrat’s reforms would produce budgetary savings.  “Otherwise, health care reform is in jeopardy,” says Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT).  Turns out there was no agreement, and the industry was just being used.

American Hospital Association president Richard Umbdenstock was more right than he knew when he told that group’s 230 members:

There has been a tremendous amount of confusion and frankly a lot of political spin.

Merriam-Webster lists “to engage in spin control (as in politics)” as its seventh definition of the word “spin.”  Its second definition is “to form a thread by extruding a viscous rapidly hardening fluid — used especially of a spider or insect.” Which reminds me…

CORRECTION: My initial reaction to Monday’s media stunt – “I smell a rat” – was transcribed incorrectly.  It should have read, “I smell arachnid.”

(HT: Joe Guarino for the pointers.)

Why Health Care Reform Is Not a Sure Thing

Over at NPR.org, I’ve got a commentary that explains why comprehensive health care reform is far from certain – current events notwithstanding.   Read it, recommend it, comment on it.

From the NPR piece:

There are two things standing in the way of Democrats’ plans for universal health insurance coverage: math and politics.

First, the math. According to the Urban Institute, covering the uninsured would cost a minimum $120 billion per year. Over 10 years, that comes to about $1.6 trillion.

That money’s gotta come from somewhere. And that’s where politics comes in. Everybody wants that money to come from someone else.

UPDATE: Here’s my appearance on Fox News today, discussing lobbyists’ proposal to cut health care costs:

Also, is health care a right?

The Stimulus Feeding Frenzy

Billions and billions of dollars! Get yours today!

I’ve written before about the massive lobbying game in Washington to get your own special interests written into the stimulus and budget bills. And about the efforts to pressure governments into spending that money NOW.

Today a friend sent me a new piece of the incredible expanding stimulus economy. A publishing company has created a new newsletter on how to keep up with “ever-changing opportunities and the complex requirements to apply for them” – The Money for Main Street Monitor. Yes, for only $229 a year, with this special offer, you can keep up with the lucrative and ever-changing “new stimulus funding opportunities.”

I’m omitting the specifics so as not to give this parasitical industry any more publicity, but here’s the text of the email advertisement:

Dear Nonprofit Professional,

Billions of dollars from the Obama stimulus plan are becoming available daily for funding thousands of new state, local and nonprofit programs!

And while it’s extremely time consuming and difficult to keep up with the ever-changing opportunities and the complex requirements to apply for them, we can help make that task easier than you’d imagine.

That’s why [the company] is proud to introduce our newest and much-needed online service: The Money for Main Street Monitor.

Just click on or cut and paste the following link into your Web browser to take advantage of a special one-week offer on this continuously updated service:

Continuous Stimulus Funding Updates

While we have diligently kept our readers up to date on the billions of dollars in funding coming from the Obama stimulus package, many tell us they need much more coverage!

Consequently, we have assigned a team of experienced Washington, DC-based editors to focus exclusively on new stimulus funding opportunities for health care, family services, education, mental health, disabilities and substance abuse programs, housing and community development!<

Through continuously updated articles, subscribers to this new online service will be kept up to date on the latest funding opportunities as soon as they emerge. And with our online format, subscribers will have access to our user-friendly search tools to instantly find the funding opportunities most suited for their organizations!

Plus, our updates – unlike those on government Web sites – are in plain English and easy to find.  And, we’ve included a wealth of grant-writing tips designed to help your organization get its share of stimulus funding!

We know how important it is for every organization to watch their dollars closely these days, and we’re doing are best to help. That’s why we are offering you a specially reduced rate for this much-needed publication, The Money for Main Street Monitor.

Just click on or cut and paste the following link into your Web browser to find out more about this special one-week offer:

Or you can call in your order toll free at 1-800-[GET OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY].

This isn’t the only company making such offers. Lobbyists, consultants, newsletter publishers, and others will be making money this year guiding their clients to the pot of gold at the end of the stimulus. But in economic terms, all this effort is deadweight loss. Instead of devoting time and talent and resources to the production of real economic value, these people are being lured into the parasite economy, jockeying for money extracted from productive workers and businesses and redistributed by a Washington bureaucracy and the lobbyists that revolve around it.

Obama’s Recycled Moderate-Speed Rail Plan

The Obama administration believes in recycling, as shown by the so-called high-speed rail plan it announced last week. Below is a map of the plan, and below that is a map of the Federal Railroad Administration’s 2005 high-speed rail plan. As you can see, the proposed routes are identical. (The grey lines on the first map represent conventional Amtrak routes.)

map of the plan

2005 map

Of course, this is a time-honored practice. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System was really the Bureau of Public Roads’ Interregional Highway System. There is no doubt that the Federal Railroad Administration is thrilled that Obama has adopted its plan.

Yet there are several problems with Obama’s plan. First, it is important to understand that most of Obama’s plan is not bullet trains or TGVs. Instead, it is conventional Amtrak Diesel-powered trains running a little faster – up to 110 mph, but averaging only 60 to 70 mph – than Amtrak runs today. Based on this, here are my most important objections to Obama’s moderate-speed rail plan.

1. Less than 1 percent will ride, more than 99 percent will pay

More than 4 percent of federal transportation spending goes to Amtrak, yet Amtrak carries only 0.1 percent of passenger travel. Moderate- and high-speed trains will significantly increase the subsidies but have little effect on the total travel. Why is it fair for 99.8 percent of people to pay for the rides enjoyed by the other 0.2 percent?

Even with subsidies, high-speed rail fares will be about 50 percent higher than ordinary Amtrak fares. For example, passengers pay $69 to ride conventional trains from New York to Washington, and $99 to ride high-speed train. (By comparison, an unsubsidized bus is $20 and unsubsidized airfares are $99.) This means only the wealthy and those whose employers pay the fare will ride high-speed rail. All taxpayers will end up paying for rides of bankers, bureaucrats, and lobbyists.

2. Moderate-speed rail is dirty

Obama’s claims that trains are better for the environment are pure speculation. Amtrak today is only a little more energy-efficient than cars and planes. While cars and planes are expected to get far more energy-efficient in the future, running trains at higher speeds will make them less energy-efficient.

True high-speed rail, which generally powered by electricity, is dirty too. Even if the electricity comes from renewable resources, the energy and environmental cost of construction will be enormous. It will take decades for the trivial annual savings to pay back that cost.

3. It doesn’t work in Europe

High-speed trains in Europe are convenient for tourists, but the average European rarely uses them. Even in France, which has more high-speed trains than any other European country, the average resident rides heavily subsidized high-speed trains just 400 miles per year. Despite punitive fuel taxes, they drive 7,600 miles per year, a number that is increasing faster than high-speed rail travel.

4. It doesn’t work in Japan

The Japanese drive less than French or Americans, but they don’t ride high-speed rail more than the French. The average resident of Japan drives 4,000 miles per year and rides high-speed trains 400 miles per year. The Japanese ride trains more than the residents of any other country – nearly 1,900 miles per year including subways and other urban rail – but due to premium fares, nearly 80 percent of train riding is on conventional trains.

5. Every car off the road means more new trucks on the road

Obama’s moderate-speed trains will run on the same tracks as existing freight trains. Since many of America’s rail lines are near capacity today, there is a real danger that moderate-speed trains will push freight onto the highways.

Europe’s rail network carries 6 percent of passenger travel, while ours carries only 0.1 percent. But European trains carry less than 17 percent of freight, while 73 percent goes by highway. By comparison, American trains carry 40 percent of our freight, while only 28 percent goes on the highway. In other words, to get 6 percent of passengers out of their cars, Europe put nearly three times as many trucks on the road.

Personally, I love trains. But Obama’s plan is bad for taxpayers and bad for the environment. We would be better off ending all subsidies to transportation than piling on subsidy after subsidy for transport that is supposedly environmentally friendly but in fact hardly anyone will use.

Stimulus Lobbying Watch

Tim Carney has more details on some companies that hired lobbyists specifically to get a piece of the kitchen-sink spending bill:

For example, the National Association of Home Builders hired Baker & Hostetler a week after Barack Obama’s inauguration to lobby explicitly on the stimulus bill, which, in the end, included an $8,000 credit for home purchases.

Better Place Inc. is an electric car company that hired its first lobbyist — Steve McBee, a former staffer for House appropriator Norm Dicks, D-Wash. — to push for electric car incentives in the stimulus. The resulting cornucopia included an expanded tax credit for plug-in cars, $2 billion in funding for electric car batteries and $400 million to build an electric car infrastructure, complete with recharging stations.

Media giant Time Warner added to its lobbying army, hiring the firm Parven Pomper Strategies to lobby for broadband subsidies in the bill. These subsidies included $2.5 billion to underwrite loans to get broadband out to rural areas and an additional $4.7 billion in spending on other broadband projects. Similarly, network giant Cisco Systems lobbied for the broadband subsidies in H.R. 1.

Carney calls it “The Lobbyist Enrichment Act.” I wrote about “Obama’s K Street Recovery Plan” a couple of days ago.