Russell Sullivan, the top staffer on Finance, and Jon Selib, Baucus chief of staff, met with a bloc of more than 20 contract lobbyists, including several former Baucus aides.
They said, Republicans are having this meeting and you need to let all of your clients know if they have someone there, that will be viewed as a hostile act, said a Democratic lobbyist who attended the meeting.
Going to the Republican meeting will say, Im interested in working with Republicans to stop health care reform, the lobbyist added.
Republican leaders have been meeting with health care stakeholders for months, with those sessions occurring more frequently than once a month, according to a senior Senate GOP aide.
The stated purpose of Thursday's meeting, organized by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), is to discuss proposals for how to pay for health care reform.
But the underlying motivation for the get-together is to encourage health care lobbyists and stakeholders concerned about the Democrats health care reform plans to speak out publicly.
They need to speak up, one Senate Republican leadership aide said. They need to help us help them.
Thune said Democrats are using threats and intimidation to keep unhappy stakeholders silent.
If you dont engage on this thing, this trains leaving the station, Thune said. If you want [Republicans] to have more influence, youve got to engage.
One longtime health care lobbyist agreed that the GOP frustration is spilling out of the Capitol and onto K Street.
It is notable that Republicans are really finding their voice, and their level of frustration is building with the stakeholders inability or refusal to speak out, this lobbyist said. Theyre getting frustrated. Republicans are doing it themselves.
One senior Democratic source charged that Thunes meeting and the supposed motives behind it are in fact a smoke screen for killing health care reform altogether.
While Democrats and many Republicans are working collaboratively to reform health care, a small group of Republicans appear all too eager to derail this promising, bipartisan effort, this source said. Its politics as usual, its disheartening and its a shame.
Senate Republicans are opposed to plans by President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats to implement a government-run, public plan option as a part of health care reform. They also are concerned with how Democrats plan to pay for reform.
Recognizing they dont have the votes to stop legislation on their own, Republicans are pushing their natural allies in the business community to help bring public pressure to bear as another way to influence the outcome.
Obama has set Oct. 15 as the deadline for approval of health care reform, and Democratic leaders in Congress are rushing to clear bills from their respective chambers by the end of July.
Our effort has been to get these folks to speak their mind, one senior Senate Republican aide said.