In the Senate, two committees have jurisdiction over health care reform, and both are preparing landmark bills. But from the K Street point of view, all panels are not created equal.
Industry lobbyists regard the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee as the more liberal panel whose bill is largely a reflection of more left-leaning, less business-friendly priorities. It is the Finance Committee where Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have a good rapport where lobbyists say they are turning to broker deals on some of the most complex and controversial aspects of reform.
And while they arent ignoring HELP, lobbyists expect Finance to hold the upper hand when, or if, the two bills should merge into one.
Are people going to the Senate Finance Committee with potential compromises and solutions in the health care debate that theyre not taking to the HELP Committee? Definitely, one health care lobbyist said. There is no doubt that the dialogue between K Street and the Finance Committee is a very different one than at HELP.
Lobbyists understand the difference between the two, and you definitely have a different approach, added this lobbyist, who would speak only on background. Finance is where most of the industry is going because it has lead jurisdiction on the most controversial items, the lobbyist said, including insurance market and Medicare reforms, insurance and financing reforms, individual and employer mandates, and all the pay-fors.
HELP has opened its door to stakeholders of all stripes in a session of workhorse meetings, but the Finance Committee which has issued orders to lobbyists to hold their fire to give time for a compromise to be reached is getting the highest marks from industry groups.
Lobbyists from both sides of the aisle say that Finance has played its outreach to business groups masterfully.
Its about the best Ive ever seen, said one Democratic lobbyist who works on health care. They have been incredibly savvy and fair.
Another health care consultant said that downtown has always taken the Finance Committee process far more seriously and that has only become more so as the process unfolds.
Its been clear for some time now that the HELP Committee process was going to be a strictly partisan process, this consultant said. So for stakeholders, from the global standpoint, people arent paying as much attention to the HELP Committee because theyre not going to be receptive either to the minority party or to downtown.
Julius Hobson, a senior policy adviser at Bryan Cave who was once an in-house lobbyist for the American Medical Association, said a groups legislative priorities are the guide as to which committee is the right spot.
Hospitals and other groups concerned with Medicare and Medicaid funding hits naturally will be at Finance, while firms that are promoting wellness programs and preventive care will talk to HELP.
Groups lobbying for or against a public plan, he said, are lobbying both committees.
It has to do with in what basket are most of your eggs, Hobson said. Thats where youre going to spend most of your time.
He added that lobbyists must keep in mind the endgame when, at least theoretically, the two bills would merge into one.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.