Business interests are using advertisements and other efforts to entice Democrats to change or eliminate the $3.5 trillion social policy bill.
WASHINGTON — As centrist Democrats in Congress work to block or strip key provisions of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate plan, their states and districts are flooded with online ads, praising them is going.
What an Arizona senator calls Kirsten Cinema has emerged as an “independent voice” and a leading hold on “the bipartisan leader”. Another says Oregon Representative Kurt Schrader is pushing a “Biden-Schrader” agenda, although he vehemently opposes key parts of the president’s package. A third praise New York Representative Kathleen Rice for “fighting for our health care and our economy”, even as she downplays elements of Mr Biden’s plan.
There’s one thing the ads don’t say prominently: They’re paid for by groups funded by the pharmaceutical industry and business interests that are working hard to kill or reshape important pieces of the president’s plan.
As Democrats keep Mr Biden’s proposal on track amid deep internal divisions in Congress, a strong influence campaign is getting at every turn. Business groups are increasingly working to fight this in large measure, such as raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations; Expanding Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision services; and proposed taxes and fees to cut carbon emissions.
The effort is coming out less clearly than in the previous lobbying push; Pandemic restrictions have limited large gatherings of lobbyists at the Capitol, so the aisle outside the Senate Finance Committee office, long known as “Gucci Gulch”, is now lined with shiny Italian shoes. Has not happened. But the campaign is progressing as intensely as ever through in-person meetings, Zoom calls, fund-raisers and airwaves.
Over 4,000 lobbyists working on budget and spending issuesAccording to Open Secrets, a non-profit watchdog group that monitors money in politics. The group said ten major industries have spent nearly $700 million on lobbying this year.
The US Chamber of Commerce, which has been lobbying to eliminate the bill because of its tax hike, has already spent nearly $30 million on lobbyists this year. The pharmaceutical industry, which is trying to thwart a proposal in a drug cost-cutting measure, has spent more than $15 million.
“Every group is reaching out and they want a meeting,” says Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, one of the main champions of using the far-reaching budget bill to raise taxes on the wealthy. “If they don’t get the commitment at the first meeting, they want a second meeting — and then the third, and then the fourth. They’re paying close attention.”
Influence campaigns cut both ways. A number of political action committees and other influence groups are spending independently to broaden the bill and push for its enactment.
The Building Back Better Coalition, formed to support the proposals, has spent nearly $7 million this month on advertising, including an ad that says “the CEO and Big Pharma” lie to voters about Biden’s plan. “Speaking. The League of Conservation Voters, which spent about $6.7 million this month, is urging Congress to cut carbon pollution in half by 2030 — an element of the package — and has threatened to withhold campaign donations from Democrats who don’t support it. We do.
Perhaps no aspect of the package has generated more lobbying activity than a proposal to lower the cost of prescription drugs by empowering Medicare to negotiate their cost. The pharmaceutical lobby is spending more than $1 million on television commercials to oppose it. And according to Open Secrets, there are now about 1,500 registered pharmaceutical or health care lobbyists working in Congress, about three for each member.
Ken Frazier, the executive chairman of Merck, which is helping to fund the ads, admitted in a recent call with reporters that the companies are fighting so hard with the proposal because he believes it will help. Their revenue will decrease. But he also portrayed the lobbying push as philanthropic, arguing that declining profits would lead to less money for research and development for new treatments and cures for diseases.
“We have seen what it will be,” said Mr Frazier. “We’ve modeled this, and our ability to fund R&D inside Merck will be nearly halved.”
PhRMA, the trade group representing pharmaceutical companies, launched its first ad against the package last month. In it, a woman named Sue looks into the camera, a gloomy voice in her voice, and says that the Democrats’ plan will “make it harder for people on Medicare to get the medicines we need.” The advertisement often airs during political news programs watched by policy makers.
The association followed that ad, accusing other politicians of deciding “what drugs you can and can’t take, regardless of what your doctor tells you.” This was followed by a print advertising campaign and then an open letter from 30 pharmaceutical companies.
At the same time, a group called Center Forward The centrist is running targeted digital ads supporting Democrats working to undermine the bill. According to tax records, the group receives approximately $1.5 million per year from PhRMA.
One of the ads read, “Thank Kirsten Sinema and ask her to keep fighting as an independent voice for Arizona.”
Another aimed at voters in the California District of Representative Scott Peters said: “We can always count on Scott Peters.”
Pharmaceutical companies have showered donations on members of Congress, but none more so than Mr. Peters, who has received Over $88,000 this year alone. He was one of three Democrats on the Energy and Commerce committee to oppose Mr Biden’s plan to reduce the cost of drugs.
PhRMA insists its Influence campaign isn’t trying to kill Biden’s multitrillion-dollar bill – they propose an alternative plan It would be less costly for the industry – but the package’s demise is something other groups are aiming for.
The US Chamber of Commerce has condemned the law, with its chief executive, Suzanne Clark, arguing that it would “dramatically expand the size and scope of government through record levels of inflationary spending and massive would impose tax hikes that would stifle America’s fragile economic recovery.”
“The Chamber will do whatever we can to stop this tax hike, job killing” bill from becoming law,” Ms Clarke pledged.
No Labels, an organization funded by businesses with close ties to Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia and the bipartisan problem solver caucus in the House, is working to pass Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, But there are agitating to kill the broader social policy plan.
When Mr Manchin called for a “pause” for Mr Biden’s $3.5 trillion social policy plan, No Labels quickly pulled out an ad describing his position as “common sense”.
The lobbying has angered liberals who blame corporate influence campaigns for standing in the way of their party’s highest priorities.
“We see it on TV every day,” said Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. he described Intense lobbying efforts from groups like No Labels Trying to finish the plan. “It’s really sad, because it’s the president’s agenda.”
Neither label responded to a request for comment.
American Dental Association is mobilizing its members To oppose the expansion of Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision benefits, arguing that it would be too costly for dentists. The Independent Petroleum Association of America is fighting new tariffs or taxes on energy companies that it says will increase costs to customers. Similarly, the American Petroleum Institute Has lobbied against tariffs on methane emissions.
Mr Manchin, a major swing vote on the social safety net package, has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, earning half a million dollars last year from coal production. Asked last week about those ties, Mr Manchin told reporters that a “blind trust” manages those financial matters. But in a memorandum laying out his demands for the bill, he said he wanted a check on any climate change provisions and sought to limit any tax hikes on fossil fuel producers.
The American Bankers Association has taken special issue with a proposal that Establish tax information reporting requirements designed to cut down on high-income tax fraud.
The organization recently wrote to prominent lawmakers, “While the stated goal of this massive data collection is tax evasion by the wealthy, this proposal is not even remotely targeted for that purpose or that population.” The association said it had “significant privacy concerns” about the provision, which it said would “create tremendous liability for all affected parties.”
Supporters of Mr Biden’s agenda have also turned aggressive.
The Working Families Party recently began targeting critical advertisements of Ms. Cinema, which have received campaign contributions from commercial interests opposing the package.
One of the group’s ads says of Ms. Cinema, “She wants to protect wealthy donors, encouraging supporters to make their protest known.”
Many centrist Democrats who are prime targets of lobbying deny that they are influenced by campaigns.
Mr Peters said it should come as no surprise that he receives strong donations from pharmaceutical companies, given that many of them, including Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Takeda, have offices in San Diego. He and Mr. Schrader have introduced an alternative offer Liked by the industry.
“While I carefully consider their input on the individual sides of each issue, I vote on the basis that I believe the first Oregonian serves first—and most important—special interest.” No,” said Mr Schrader.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, who as chairman of the budget committee is a key architect of the social safety net plan, said the lobbying effort is more active than any he’s seen.
“At a time when we are trying to pass an unprecedented law that benefits working families, we are seeing an unprecedented level of lobbying by powerful special interests who want to defeat us,” Mr. Sanders said.