With Biden’s agenda in balance, the lobbying work comes into full swing


""US politics"" – Google News

WASHINGTON – While the Center Democrats in Congress worked to block or abolish key provisions of President Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion social safety net and climate plan, a number of online advertisements have surfaced across their states and counties who praise them.

One names Senator Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona, who has proven to be a leading refuser of the measure, as an “independent voice” and a “non-partisan leader”. Another says Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader is pushing for the “Biden Schrader” agenda, despite clearly rejecting substantial parts of the president’s package. A third praised New York MP Kathleen Rice for “fighting for our health care and our economy” while undermining elements of Mr. Biden’s plan.

One thing the ads don’t say so prominently: They’re paid by drug-funded and business-funded groups that are deeply committed to killing or reshaping crucial parts of the president’s plan.

As Democrats work to keep Mr Biden’s proposal on track in Congress amid deep internal divisions, he encounters a robust campaign of influence at every turn. Corporate groups are working flat out to combat large parts of it, such as increasing taxes on the rich and corporations; Extend Medicare to dental, hearing and vision services; and proposed taxes and fees to reduce carbon emissions.

The efforts are less noticeable than previous lobbying efforts; Pandemic restrictions have restricted large gatherings of lobbyists in the Capitol so the corridor in front of the Senate Finance Committee’s office long known as the “Gucci Gulch” is no longer cluttered with shiny Italian shoes. But the campaign is as intense as ever, via individual meetings, zoom calls, fundraisers, and the airwaves.

There are more than 4,000 lobbyists working on budget and spending issues, according to OpenSecrets, a nonprofit watchdog group that pursues money in politics. Ten major industries have spent nearly $ 700 million on lobbying this year, the group said.

The US Chamber of Commerce, which is campaigning to crush the law for its tax hikes, has already spent around $ 30 million on lobbyists this year. The pharmaceutical industry trying to thwart a proposal to cut drug costs has spent more than $ 15 million.

“Every group comes up and wants a meeting,” said Massachusetts Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren, a key proponent of using the sweeping budget to raise taxes for the rich. “If they don’t get an acceptance at the first meeting, they want a second meeting – and then a third, and then a fourth. You pay very close attention. “

The influence campaigns cut both ways. Several political action committees and other groups are spending generously on expanding the bill and pushing for its passage.

Building Back Together, a group formed to back the proposals, is part of a coalition pledged to spend $ 150 million on advertising to gain support for Mr. Biden’s plan. The League of Conservation Voters spent nearly $ 6.7 million on advertising this month, according to analytics firm AdImpact. She is calling on Congress to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 – an element of the package – and has threatened to withhold campaign donations from Democrats who do not support it.

Perhaps no aspect of the package has sparked more lobbying than a proposal to reduce the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate their costs. The pharmaceutical lobby is spending more than $ 1 million on television advertising to fight back. And there are now nearly 1,500 registered pharmaceutical or health lobbyists working as legislators in Congress, nearly three for each member, according to OpenSecrets.

Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck, which sponsors the ads, admitted in a recent phone call with reporters that the companies fought so hard against the proposal because they believed it would reduce their revenues. He also portrayed lobbying as altruistic, arguing that a decline in profit would result in less money spent on researching and developing new treatments and cures for diseases.

“We looked at what that would be,” said Mr Frazier. “We modeled it and our ability to fund research and development within Merck will be reduced by almost half.”

PhRMA, the trading group that represents pharmaceutical companies, launched their first ad against the package last month. In it, a woman named Sue looks at the camera with a touch of melancholy and says the Democratic plan would “make it harder for the Medicare people to get the drugs we need.” The ad is often aired on political news programs watched by policy makers.

The association was followed by another complaint accusing politicians of wanting to decide “which drugs you can and cannot get, regardless of what your doctor prescribes”. This was followed by a print advertising campaign and an open letter from 30 pharmaceutical companies.

At the same time, a group called Center Forward is running targeted digital ads that support centrist Democrats working to bring the bill down. The group receives nearly $ 1.5 million annually from PhRMA, according to tax records.

“Thank you Kyrsten Sinema and tell her to continue fighting as an independent voice for Arizona,” one of the advertisements said when Ms. Sinema was discussing with the White House about removing items from the president’s package.

Another, addressing voters in the Californian district of Rep. Scott Peters, said, “We can always count on Scott Peters to deliver.”

Pharmaceutical companies have showered donations on members of Congress, but none more than Mr Peters, who has received more than $ 88,000 this year alone. He was one of three Democrats who opposed Mr Biden’s plan to cut prescription drug costs on the Energy and Trade Committee.

PhRMA insists that its influence campaign doesn’t seek to kill Mr Biden’s trillion dollar bill – they propose an alternative plan that would be less costly to the industry – but the package’s demise is the target of several other groups.

The US Chamber of Commerce, with its chairman Suzanne Clark, has condemned the bill, arguing that it would “dramatically expand the size and scope of government through record levels of inflation spending and enforce massive tax increases that will halt America’s fragile economic recovery.”

“The Chamber will do everything in its power to prevent this tax-increasing, job-destroying reconciliation law from going into effect,” promised Ms. Clark.

No Labels, a company-funded organization that has close ties to centrist lawmakers like Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, is working to pass Mr. Biden’s $ 1 trillion infrastructure plan, but agitates to undo the broader social policy plan.

When Mr. Manchin called for a “break” from Mr. Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion social policy plan, No Labels quickly posted an ad affirming his position as “common sense.”

Andrew Bates, a White House deputy press secretary, said Mr Biden’s plan would improve the lives of America’s middle class and make the US more competitive in the global economy.

“For far too long the richest taxpayers and big corporations – those who can afford lobbyists – have been able to set up a special set of rules for themselves while everyone else is left farther behind despite working harder than ever,” he said.

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 Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “It’s really sad because that’s the president’s agenda.”

No Labels did not respond to a request for comment.

The American Dental Association is mobilizing its members to oppose the extension of Medicare to dental, hearing and vision benefits, arguing that it would be too costly for dentists to do so. The Independent Petroleum Association of America is fighting new fees or taxes for energy companies that they believe will increase costs for customers. The American Petroleum Institute has also campaigned for methane emissions for a fee.

One of the main voices for the social security package, Mr Manchin, has close ties to the fossil fuel industry and made half a million dollars mining coal last year. When asked about these connections, Mr. Manchin told reporters last week that a “blind trust” is running these financial matters. But in a memo setting out his demands for the bill, he said he wanted control of all climate change regulations and was trying to limit tax increases for fossil fuel producers.

The American Bankers Association was particularly looking at a proposal that would introduce tax information reporting requirements to help reduce high-income tax evaders.

“While the stated aim of this extensive collection of data is to expose tax evasion by the rich, this proposal is not remotely aimed at that purpose or this population,” the organization recently wrote to key lawmakers. The association said it had “significant privacy concerns” regarding the provision, which would create “enormous liability for all concerned”.

Supporters of Mr Biden’s agenda have also gone on the offensive.

The Working Families Party recently started directing critical ads to Ms. Sinema, who has received campaign contributions from business interests that opposed the package.

“She would rather protect wealthy donors,” says one of the group’s advertisements about Ms. Sinema and encourages her supporters to publicize their opposition to her.

Many of the centrist Democrats who are the main targets of lobbying deny that they are being influenced by the campaign of influence.

Peters said it should come as no surprise that he receives solid donations from drug companies as many of them, including Eli Lilly, Pfizer, and Takeda, have offices in San Diego. He and Mr. Schrader presented an alternative proposal favored by the industry.

“While I carefully consider their contributions on the different aspects of each topic, I vote based on what I think serves primarily the Oregonians best – not special interests,” said Schrader.

Ms. Rice said she was just looking for a way to cut drug bills, which would be more likely to find support in the Senate than the current proposal.

Senator Bernie Sanders, independent from Vermont, who as chairman of the budget committee is a key architect of the social safety net plan, said the lobbying was as active as anyone else he has seen.

“At a time when we are trying to pass an unprecedented law that will benefit working families, we are seeing an unprecedented level of lobbying by the powerful special interests that are trying to defeat us,” said Sanders.

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