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Business groups target lawmakers

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nearly a dozen business groups that oppose President Obama's health care overhaul bill are spending millions of dollars to put pressure on vulnerable, fence-sitting House members in their districts.

Employers for a Healthy Economy, which counts health insurers, manufacturers, retailers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce among its members, said it is spending between $4 million and $10 million on television ads that ask House members to oppose the Senate's health bill.

The ad buy, from a powerful lobbying muscle, comes amid Mr. Obama's final push to rally Democrats to support his bill. A handful of House Democrats who supported the bill previously have said they're unsure whether they're going to vote for the Senate bill, the basis of the president's plan.

"There is absolutely no substantive improvement in the latest iteration of health care legislation from the previous attempts that have been soundly rejected by the business community and the American people," said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The ads, targeted at wavering House Democrats in 17 states, attempt to tap into public unease over the plan, which has the support of slightly less than half of Americans, according to recent polls.

Vulnerable Democrats are particularly leery of the bill, just eight months ahead of midterm elections, and of passing the plan through reconciliation, the complex procedural move in which the Senate will be able to pass a companion to its last health bill by only 51 votes - not the 60 they typically need to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat who faces a more liberal primary challenger, strongly reiterated Tuesday that she still opposes using reconciliation, after her office said an Associated Press report mischaracterized her words.

"I don't support reconciliation. I said that before, and I'll say it again," she told reporters just outside the Senate chamber.

But she added that she's still interested in viewing the president's plan in legislative language, which would have to be passed through reconciliation.

Groups that support the Democrats' health care overhaul plans have been vocal as well. Trade groups such as the AARP and Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America spent millions of dollars last year in support of reform but have turned the volume down in recent weeks. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which supports a public insurance plan, has been gathering signatures and stirring grass-roots advocates in support of the measure.

The heat is expected to remain on Democrats for several more weeks. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said Tuesday that his objective is to pass the Senate bill by the start of Congress' Easter recess on March 26, dismissing a White House deadline of March 18.

The groups backing the business coalition ads say they support health care reform, but not the president's plan or the Senate bill. They say it would stifle business by increasing taxes and raising premiums and not doing enough to address rising health costs.

The Chamber is spearheading the advertising campaign, but several industry groups have bought in, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, among others.

Mr. Josten said health insurers have bought into the campaign as well. The health insurance industry has faced sharp criticism from the Obama administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill for recording climbing profits as consumers see their premiums spike.

Mr. Josten declined to put an exact figure on how much the group is spending on the advertisements, except to say that it's between $4 million and $10 million.