- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2012

House Republicans last week released their second investigative memo detailing how the White House worked with the nation’s drug companies to sell President Obama’s health care law, arguing the deals he struck violate his campaign pledges of transparency.

The Energy and Commerce Committee memo, released Friday, said Mr. Obama’s top lieutenants pushed pharmaceutical companies to use political action committees to promote the law, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) agreed to spend $150 million on positive advertising for the Affordable Care Act, directing half that spending through two super PACs, the documents show.

The details, gleaned from emails the committee reviewed, stand in contrast to Mr. Obama’s public attacks on super PACs, which don’t have to meet the strict disclosure requirements that campaigns must meet.

The Republican memo came on top of an earlier one the committee released that said the White House struck a deal with PhRMA to impose new restrictions in exchange for dropping Mr. Obama’s campaign pledge to support letting Americans import less expensive drugs from Canada and elsewhere.

“This committee has uncovered a clandestine process that shielded the public from knowledge of who was at the bargaining table developing the law while they were simultaneously told that if you like what you have, you can keep it — a promise that has repeatedly been proven false,” lawmakers wrote in a memo.

The White House dismissed the new report, saying it was already known that Mr. Obama negotiated with the drug companies behind closed doors. And congressional Democrats said pushing the outside group to try to sell the health care law is no different than what previous presidents have done when they coordinated with interest groups on bills.

Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, said the advertising deal has been public for some time, and pointed to stories by major press outlets three years ago that detailed the deal-making.

“This House Energy and Commerce Committee has spent over $1 million in taxpayer dollars the past 16 months making baseless, politically driven allegations — but has done almost nothing to move legislation that would create jobs or grow the economy,” Mr. Schultz said.

In emails obtained by the committee, former deputy chief of staff Jim Messina requested that the industry run ads linking the poor economy to the need for health care reform.

And according to an email sent by PhRMA lobbyist Bryant Hall, former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel wanted ads similar to the “Harry and Louise” television commercials that insurers ran against President Clinton’s health care plan in the 1990s — and he wanted them done through a “third party.”

“Rahm asked for Harry and Louise ads thru a third party,” Mr. Hall wrote in July 2009. “We’ve already contacted the agent.”

Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat and ranking member of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, said Mr. Obama did nothing different than his GOP predecessors have done to pass key legislation.

She said President Lyndon B. Johnson gathered support from labor groups and other interest groups in his effort to enact Medicare, and President George W. Bush worked with corporate lobbyists, senior groups and unions to collect support for his plan to privatize Social Security in 2005.

Ms. DeGette also pointed to millions of dollars that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups opposed to the law spent to lobby against it.

“Nobody should be surprised that supporters of the health care reform law advertised in support of its passage,” she said. “Opponents of health care reform spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising and other efforts to kill the law.”