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High-Stakes Bill Mobilizes Broad Swath of Interests

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Conservative tea party activists hold a protest in Upper Senate Park on Tuesday to urge Members of Congress to stop a health care reform package.

In a letter to House Members, Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic hospital group, said the Senate bill “goes a long way toward meeting the goals of reform,” but she said a corrections bill was needed to address such issues as increasing tax credits for low-income people who buy health insurance and increasing Medicaid’s primary care reimbursement rates.

The letter states that the final health care reform package should provide no federal funding for abortion. However, the Catholic hospital association is not working to defeat the Senate bill, unlike anti-abortion groups that argue the measure contains language that is not restrictive enough regarding federal funding for the procedure. Anti-abortion groups as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had thrown their support behind more restrictive abortion language, authored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), in the House version of the bill.

The bishops put out a statement this week opposing the Senate bill’s abortion language.

Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, on Tuesday launched a $350,000 campaign that included running full-page newspaper ads in eight Congressional districts in Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois and North Dakota. In addition, the group said it was making phone calls and blasting e-mails and text messages to its activists about the upcoming House vote on the Senate bill.

Other groups were anxiously awaiting the details of the reconciliation measure to see whether their concerns were addressed.

Kathleen Jaeger, president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, has been lobbying for changes that would reduce the 12-year minimum time included in the Senate bill that brand-name drug companies have to exclusively develop cutting-edge biologic drugs.

While the generic industry has some key allies, including President Barack Obama and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Jaeger said the brand-name drug companies have waged an impressive lobbying campaign to protect their interests.

“This is ‘101’ in the best in lobbying and political influence,” Jaeger said. The Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, which represents the drug industry, had made a deal with the Senate last year to contribute $80 billion over 10 years in drug subsidies, which the White House has recommended be increased by $10 billion. Drug companies in recent days have been seeking to ensure their interests were maintained in the final bill.

But Jaeger said her group would “continue to pound the pavement and make sure our champions have everything they need.”

After the tea party rally, some in the crowd headed to House office buildings to lobby Democratic Members who have been on the fence on health care. Three men from the Eastern Shore of Maryland were debating whether it was worth stopping by the office of their Congressman, Rep. Frank Kratovil (D), who voted against the House version of the health care bill but who remains undecided.

“I don’t think it matters,” said Don Loveless, a retired government worker from Stevensville. Loveless was accompanied by two realtor friends, Charles Kraus and Jeff Bridegum. They all said they did not vote for Kratovil in 2008 when he was first elected in the Republican-leaning district. But they warned that if Kratovil voted for the health care bill, they would work hard for his defeat, contacting their friends and relatives.

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