Lobbyists Plot for Bill Markup

Posted September 18, 2009 at 6:13pm

Interest groups and industry players with a stake in the health care debate ramped up their lobbying efforts over the weekend as they tried to line up support heading into a Senate Finance Committee markup set to begin Tuesday.

Even though lobbyists were intently focused on the Finance bill, they were also plotting how best to position their causes when a Finance bill is, presumably, merged with one already passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and then ultimately merged with a House product. Most lobbyists say the push will only intensify leading to the Christmas holiday.

“It’s going to be the toughest 100 days probably any of us has ever experienced,— said Ralph Neas, a longtime liberal Washington, D.C., lobbyist who is chief executive of the pro-reform National Coalition on Health Care. “It is eminently achievable, but it is going to be challenging substantively and politically.—

One health care consultant who represents a variety of industry players said late Friday that clients were lining up conference calls to take place throughout the weekend.

The Finance markup, this consultant added, could become a free-for-all, with Senators poised to offer amendments and the private sector gearing up to push for or against them.

“This is definitely not predetermined,— the consultant said. “This is going to be a very different markup, and I’m sure it’ll be very interesting.—

An insurance industry source said that the Senate Finance product was not as harmful to the industry as the House bill, which includes a public insurance option. But, this source said, insurers are concerned about amendments that would beef up the current insurance cooperative framework in the Finance bill authored by Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

“The industry is going to be on particular alert for efforts to inject a government-run health care plan into this bill,— the insurance source said. “That is something the industry will be watching and working very hard to defeat.—

The environment is made all the more confusing, lobbyists on all sides of the issue said, because so much is uncertain. One Democratic health care lobbyist who requested anonymity even questioned whether Baucus’ planned markup on Tuesday would ultimately be postponed.

“The state of play is a little murky right now,— said Shawn Martin, a lobbyist for the American Osteopathic Association. “We’re talking to Members on both sides of the aisle right now and trying to figure out what is manageable for amending the bill.—

Health insurers, medical device makers and clinical laboratories are all viewed as among the most interested corporate players looking to use amendments to potentially change the tax increases they face in the bill, but lobbyists said they are also eyeing additional strategies.

“Folks are trying to figure out whether the amendment strategy is a smart one,— a Democratic health care lobbyist said. “You can offer amendments, but that can be a risky prospect, and some [clients] are talking about just teeing up the amendments and waiting until a bill is on the floor.—

Waiting until a bill is on the floor, this lobbyist said while speaking on background in order to more freely discuss client strategy, would allow groups more time to come up with cost offsets and to get more Members on board with their position. That’s a risk, too, especially if Democrats abandon the idea of pushing a bill through regular order and try to make health care reforms on a budget reconciliation bill.

“Groups are taking all this stuff into consideration,— the lobbyist said. “I have a feeling it’s going to be a little bit crazy.—

Democratic lobbyist Andy Rosenberg said groups that get their message out first stand the best chance of achieving their priorities.

“Those parties that have been at the table the longest are having the greatest success of putting their issues in play for the markup,— said Rosenberg, of Ogilvy Government Relations. “Committee staff has a limited bandwidth and as a result are more likely to champion issues with which they’ve developed a comfort level over time.—

John Emling, senior vice president of government affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said his group is looking to make changes to the Finance product in committee. His group has issues with Baucus’ “free rider— provision, which mandates employers to pay a portion of the costs associated with employees’ participating in a health insurance exchange, especially when it comes to part-time or seasonal workers.

“There is just a lot of difficulty in navigating what is going to get the most amount of support,— Emling said. “If there’s an opportunity to make changes in committee, then we’ll want to seek that. But if there are substantive things that would cause us a lot of concern, then we might not be left with any choice but to pursue a floor strategy.—