Former Senate Aides Shape Health Care Bill

Lobbyists Lean On Hill Ties

Posted December 1, 2009 at 6:34pm

As their former bosses wade through complex health care arcana at a breakneck pace, staffers-turned-health-care-lobbyists are relying on their contacts and policy expertise to shape the fast-evolving legislation.

“It is helpful. We have lines of communication open,— a lobbyist and former Senate Democratic staffer said. “We have access to lay out our argument.—

Some of the ex-Senate aides have lucrative clients with a stake in the debate.

Elmendorf Strategies lobbyist Jimmy Ryan, former chief counsel for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), counts among his clients the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Earlier this year, PhRMA struck a deal with the Senate leadership and the White House to make concessions worth $80 billion over 10 years in drug costs for senior citizens.

Another former Reid staffer, Steve Miller, is now the political director for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The eye specialists have labeled as a problem certain provisions in the Senate bill, including a 5 percent tax on cosmetic surgery that they argue will apply to Lasik surgery.

A handful of former staffers to Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who has threatened to block the legislation if the public insurance option is not removed, are also involved in health care lobbying.

Michael Lewan, who was Lieberman’s chief of staff from 1989 to 1993, works for Brown Rudnick, where his clients include Minneapolis-based Medtronic, a medical technology company. Another former Lieberman staffer, Anne Fabry also works for Brown Rudnick and represents health care clients.

Medtronic had opposed a plan to levy $40 billion over 10 years in new taxes on medical devices that had been included in earlier versions of the health bills. The latest House and Senate bills halved that amount.

Walking Softly

Most of the lobbyists declined to speak on the record about any communications they have with their former bosses.

Catherine Finley, a former senior health policy adviser to Sen. Olympia Snowe, who represents health care clients for Capitol Counsel, said the moderate Republican Senator from Maine “wouldn’t be happy about reading about me in the paper.—

Finley also would not discuss her clients. But lobbying disclosure forms filed with Congress show she lobbies for a number of clients that are involved in the health care debate including the American Academy of Dermatology and the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, which represents nonprofit health plans in 24 states. ACAP recently supported the House health care plan that includes a public option that Snowe opposes. The Maine Senator, considered a potentially pivotal player in the health care debate, has instead suggested a “trigger— approach to the public option.

Another former Snowe staffer, T.J. Petrizzo heads a lobbying firm, Petrizzo Strategic Group, whose portfolio includes a number of health-related clients, such as Agios Pharmaceuticals as well as a number of hospitals. Another former Snowe staffer, Lindsey Ledwin also works for Petrizzo.

“I don’t know how much Senators reach out, as much as lobbyists have to do the reaching,— Petrizzo said. Nevertheless, Petrizzo said Snowe has been open to getting input about the health care legislation.

“I think she gets how important this is and is open to listening to anyone around town,— he said.

According to other lobbyists familiar with Snowe, the Maine Senator is less likely to reach out to former staffers around Washington than she is to rely on the advice of her husband, former Maine Gov. John McKernan, and health care interests from her home state.

No Door Un-Knocked

A former Senate aide now working on K Street said the endless minutiae involved in the current health care overhaul requires a lobbyist’s ability to knock on every door in the office — from the Member to the scheduler.

“It is imperative for anyone who has a stake in the future of the health care system — for better or worse — to have someone in their stable who can get access to a Member,— the former aide said. “This bill is particularly staff-driven because it’s so complex.—

In the case of key fence-sitter Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti lobbyist Kelly Bingel is said to have the ear of her former boss. Bingel declined to be interviewed for this article, but a former colleague called her “first on the list— of the Senator’s callbacks.

According to third-quarter Senate lobbying records, Bingel represents home-state retail superpower Walmart, as well as GE Healthcare, drugmaker AstraZeneca, insurance provider Humana, Abbott Laboratories, American Osteopathic Association, Ascension Healthcare and other health care stakeholders.

“She’s Sen. Lincoln’s alter ego,— a former colleague said.

Other one-time Lincoln staffers considered particularly close to their former boss include Charles Barnett of the Alpine Group, Ben Noble of Troutman Sanders Strategies and John Gilliland of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart lobbyists Jonathon Jones and Sheila Murphy are considered close to their former boss, influential moderate health care negotiator Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). Recent lobbying records show that their lobbying shop represents AstraZeneca, as well as the American Insurance Association and PhRMA.

“Like other Senators, Sen. Tom Carper seeks advice from a wide and diverse range of experienced thinkers, and he tries to surround himself with the good ideas of others,— a Carper spokesperson said in a statement.

Feeling the Pain

A lobbyist and former staffer for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), another sought-after health care vote, said one-time aides are expected to play an important role in the coming weeks, bringing “to the table a specific expertise and background— in the current health care debate. Former aides also know the pain that a potential “aye— vote will cause back home, the source said.

“It provides a Member with information they feel they can trust because they worked so intimately with those staffers,— the lobbyist said. “They bring a level of expertise and trustworthiness to the table. … They also know how this will play out politically in the state.—

Influential former Landrieu staffers now working downtown include Cassidy and Associates’ Donna Jo Denison and the Alpine Group’s Jason Schendle.

And while the door may always be open for former aides, a former staffer stressed that one-time colleagues don’t always get what they want.

“It doesn’t mean we can snap our fingers and get things removed,— this lobbyist said.