Remember how, after taking office, Obama said he was going to stand up to Washington's special interests, that he was gearing up for a fight with the city's lobbyists? Well, D.C.'s lobbyists have taken him up on that challenge — and have been happily fighting all the way to the bank. Here's Politico on the state of lobbying in the capitol at the end of 2009:
Washington's influence industry is on track to shatter last year's record $3.3 billion spent to lobby Congress and the rest of the federal government — and that's with a down economy and about 1,500 fewer registered lobbyists in town, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. Many lobbying firms have escaped the worst of the corporate belt-tightening, thanks, in large part, to the ambitious agenda set out by President Barack Obama — who, ironically, came to Washington with a pledge to break what he considered the undue influence of special-interest lobbyists. Plenty of sectors have scaled back their K Street spending, including traditional big spenders like real estate and telecommunications. But Obama's push for legislation on health reform, financial reform and climate change has compensated for the grim economic times.
And here's USA Today on who's benefiting from all that special interest money:
As the health care bill moves toward a critical vote in the Senate, the five senators charged with overseeing the floor debate count health interests among their biggest campaign contributors, records show. The political action committees and employees of drugmakers Schering-Plough and Amgen have been the top two contributors in the past five years to Montana Sen. Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and is one of three senators managing the bill for Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In all, health care interests have donated more than $2.5 million to Baucus' fundraising committees since 2005, the center's data show.
So what you're saying is… debates over massively complex legislation designed to regulate the health care industry actually made more work for lobbyists? Really? Who could have ever imagined such a thing!
This strikes me as patently obvious; regardless of what one thinks of lobbyists, what's the alternative? That trade groups should just quietly, politely accept whatever Congress decides to do to their businesses? That we should put strict prohibitions on lobbying, effectively taping shut the mouths of those Congress is proposing to regulate? Even if that were actually possible (which I doubt), how is that remotely just? If Congress decides to step in and impose massive, complex rule changes on an industry, it seems inevitable — not to mention reasonable and understandable — that the industry is going to want, and make every effort, to provide its input and perspective on how those changes will affect its livelihood.
Perhaps liberals might say that one-time spikes like this are to be expected, and that after legislation takes effect, spending will come down. Problem is, the more you get government involved in an industry, the harder it is to ever unlink the two. Indeed, the health care bill is now explicitly being pitched as a "starter" bill, one that liberals are going to work hard to spruce up over time. So the legislative battle over health care is far from over, and, if the political debates over health care in other countries are any indication, it will never be over. As I wrote last month, if you take liberals at their word, "reform won't just mess up our health care system, it will infect our political system; the more our politics and our health care are tied together, the more our political debates will become indistinguishable from our health care debates." And you can bet next year's insurance premiums on the fact that health industry lobbyists are counting on just this fact.