Obama sells out to drug, hospital lobbyists

In cutting deals with hospitals and drug makers, President Barack Obama is giving a private inside track to special interests that’s at odds with his promise to make policy in the open.

Obama promised Americans he would hold special interests at arm’s length — that it would no longer be business as usual in Washington. He pledged to open government and let the public and press hold his administration accountable.

And just over two months before the 2008 election, Obama promised before an audience in Chester, Va., to hash out a health care overhaul in public. "We’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies," he said then.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, the administration’s multibillion-dollar deals with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies have been made in private, and the results were announced after the fact. Both industries promised Obama cost savings in return for an expanded base of insured patients; beyond that, the public is in the dark about details.

In some ways, it resembles what his party criticized President George W. Bush for doing with oil and gas companies as Vice President Dick Cheney wrote a national energy plan in the early days of the Bush administration.

As the Bush White House did, the Obama White House is refusing to release visitor logs that would let people see everyone going in and out during the thick of discussions over major national policies.

Just as environmentalists complained they were shut out as Cheney drafted energy policy, employers now complain that the Obama administration isn’t giving them enough say in health care policy. Like the environmentalists, employers fear a new policy will come at their expense.

"There’s beginning to be a little bit of, ‘Where are all these deals getting us?’" E. Neil Trautwein, chief health care lobbyist for the National Retail Federation, said recently, referring to business concerns that the hospital and drug company pacts would force employers to pay more for workers’ medical benefits. "Is this going to add to the process or subtract from it?"

The White House had no immediate comment.

So what happened to the promises?

When cutting special interests out of his campaign and then his administration, Obama targeted people currently registered as Washington lobbyists. He never said he would cut off the companies, unions, trade associations and others that employ lobbyists — just lobbyists themselves. And even then, he has made exceptions here and there.

Presidents, regardless of party, prefer to keep their dealmaking private, obscuring what’s being said, what’s being taken and given, and by whom. It’s messier and less practical to open the door to a lot of public input, particularly on a national scale. It’s much easier to use polls to gauge what the public thinks.

That means the interests whose ideas make it into national policy are usually those with the money and clout to press their case in Washington and the power to block any idea they haven’t helped shape.


Sharon Theimer has been an investigative reporter in the AP’s Washington bureau since 2001.


  1. pondering_it_all

    I’m sure an AP reporter would like nothing better than public negotiations, so she could file a new story every day. But then the process would have to deal with the public reactions to every probe and parry, so it would take months to complete. The negotiation process would die a slow death!

    These “deals” are just negotiated comnpromises, anyway: None of them are law. They just let our lawmakers understand what is possible.

  2. almandine

    “These “deals” are just negotiated comnpromises, anyway”

    Is that what you said about Cheney’s petroleum taskforce?

  3. barak

    I never understood the secrecy that permeates our government. It is OUR government, isn’t it? Those people in Washington, DC and in Federal Offices all across America ARE our employees, aren’t they? If we don’t like the way they are carrying out our directives, we can fire them, can’t we?

    SO! Why don’t we fire them? Why elect them time after time until they think that THEY are the bosses and we are the workers. BULLSHIT!

    WE THE PEOPLE need to take back the control of our government and our future. We need term limits. One 3 year term for all elected public officials and for any and all appointed Federal Judges. We should be able to find, in 300 million Americans, enough good people to run our country the way we want them to, or at least I really hope we can.

    It is time. There is still time to save America. We need that promised ‘CHANGE’ now!

  4. griff

    Our government guaranteeing the medical industry more patients? Hmmm…gotta love that.

    Get the FDA to work right away approving more toxins for the food. Your umbrella corporation needs some more patients so the taxpayer can save money by spending more. Duh?

    “In some ways, it resembles what his party criticized President George W. Bush for doing with oil and gas companies as Vice President Dick Cheney wrote a national energy plan in the early days of the Bush administration.”

    You mean the Democrats are doing the same thing the Republicans did when they were in power? Who would have thought that? I’m truly flabergasted.

    Since the military-industrial complex has their golden goose on cruise control, it’s time to move on to the medical-industrial complex. They’ve been patient…no pun intended.

    Oh, but the Democrats love us and want to help us. They even tell us so, so it’s OK!

    You mean nothing’s changed?

  5. woody188

    If it were a good thing, it wouldn’t be a secret. It is only evil that can’t stand the light of day. Perhaps forced vaccinations causing a pandemic outbreak like Baxter tried to do with H5N1 bird flu?

    Oh you didn’t know they were that evil?

    Level 3 quarantined materials don’t get mixed into your vaccine by mistake.

    R U Main Core?

  6. GovtFlu

    “…..it resembles what his party criticized President George W. Bush…”

    DC Mafia business as usual… how shocking.