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White House: The Hub of Health Care Backroom Deal Making

January 26, 2010

President Obama, in an interview with Diane Sawyer, attempted to clarify his role in the health care legislative debate but rewrote history in doing so. Regardless of his assertions, the reality is President Obama was Chief Dealmaker, making sweetheart deals behind closed doors with the most powerful health care lobbyists in Washington.*

Here are Three of the Major Backroom Deals Struck at the White House that Suggest Otherwise :

White House Deal with Pharmaceutical Manufacturers

“Mr. Tauzin [head of the PhRMA] said the administration had approached him to negotiate…He said the White House had directed him to negotiate with Senator Max Baucus, the business-friendly Montana Democrat who leads the Senate Finance Committee.

Mr. Tauzin said the White House had tracked the negotiations throughout, assenting to decisions to move away from ideas like the government negotiation of prices or the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada.

After reaching an agreement with Mr. Baucus, Mr. Tauzin said, he met twice at the White House with Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff; Mr. Messina, his deputy; and Nancy-Ann DeParle, the aide overseeing the health care overhaul, to confirm the administration’s support for the terms.

“They blessed the deal,” Mr. Tauzin said.

But, Mr. Tauzin said, “as far we are concerned, that is a done deal.” He said, “It’s up to the White House and Senator Baucus to follow through.”

A deputy White House chief of staff, Jim Messina, confirmed Mr. Tauzin’s account of the deal in an e-mail message on Wednesday night.

“The president encouraged this approach,” Mr. Messina wrote.**

White House Deal with Unions

“Top congressional Democrats negotiated with the president into the night Thursday, the second consecutive day of lengthy talks.

Union leaders pressed their case for the changes on the high-end insurance tax at two White House meetings this week, including a two-hour session with Mr. Obama.

The dispute threatened to drive a wedge between the White House and unions, which strongly backed Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign. The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, this week suggested that without changes to this provision, unions might be less likely to help Democrats on the ballot this fall and Republicans could take back the House. Another union threatened to pull support for the health bill, Mr. Obama’s top legislative priority.

After Thursday’s agreement, labor leaders had warmer words for the president and said they would promote the deal among Democrats.”  ***

“Officials said the agreement was thrashed out over more than 15 hours of negotiating at the White House that ended after midnight Wednesday. Participants included Trumka; Andy Stern, head of Service Employees International Union; Anna Burger, head of Change to Win, and the leaders of unions representing teachers, government workers, food and commercial workers, and electricians. Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, was the lead White House bargainer, although Vice President Joe Biden also was involved periodically.”  ****

White House Deal with Hospitals

“Not to worry, Jim Messina, the deputy White House chief of staff, told the hospital lobbyists, according to White House officials and lobbyists briefed on the call. The White House was standing behind the deal, Mr. Messina told them, capping the industry’s costs at a maximum of $155 billion over 10 years in exchange for its political support.

Lobbyists for both the drug and hospital industries say that, as early as June, White House officials directed them to work out cost-saving deals with Mr. Baucus’s committee.

Several hospital lobbyists involved in the White House deals said it was understood as a condition of their support that the final legislation would not include a government-run health plan paying Medicare rates — generally 80 percent of private sector rates — or controlled by the secretary of health and human services.

“We have an agreement with the White House that I’m very confident will be seen all the way through conference,” one of the industry lobbyists, Chip Kahn, director of the Federation of American Hospitals, told a Capitol Hill newsletter.”  *****


*Jake Tapper, In Interview with Diane Sawyer, President Obama Calls Not Living Up to Transparency Promise “A Mistake”, ABC News, (January 25, 2010), available online at:
**David D. Kirkpatrick, “White House Affirms Deal on Drug Cost,” New York Times, August 5, 2009.
***Laura Meckler and Naftali Bendavid, “Unions Cut Special Deal on Health Taxes,” Wall St. Journal, January 15, 2010.
****”Labor, White House Have Deal on Insurance Tax,” Associated Press, January 14, 2010.
*****David D. Kirkpatrick, “Obama is Taking an Active Role in Talks on Health Care,” New York Times, August 12, 2009.