Lobbyists Campaign For Their Health Care 'Reform'
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
And I'm Ari Shapiro. We have a couple of stories now on the ways people are trying to influence the health care debate. In Florida, President Barack Obama's grassroots group, Organizing for America, is pushing the White House agenda.
First, here in Washington, an army of lobbyists is pushing the interests of doctors, drug companies, hospitals and others. Bloomberg News recently calculated there are six health care lobbyists for each member of Congress. We begin with one of those lobbyists. Paul Lee is the senior partner and founder of Strategic Health Care.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. PAUL LEE (Founder, Strategic Health Care): Thank you, Ari. It's a pleasure to be here.
SHAPIRO: So if there are some 3,300 lobbyists focusing on health care, how do you make your voice heard above the din?
Mr. LEE: You know, I really thought there were a lot more than that, first of all. There are only six per member. That's pretty amazing. It seems like there's a lot more than that running around Washington…
SHAPIRO: Does it?
Mr. LEE: …and around the country. It seems that way. And really, the issue is not so much perhaps the lobbyist himself or herself, but the individuals that we represent.
We work with a lot of different organizations around the country - hospitals, physician groups and surgery centers and a lot of different kind of health care organizations. And so, you know, a lot of what we really do is try to educate the members about what really goes on in these organizations.
SHAPIRO: You know, I hear you saying it's important to educate members of Congress and it's important that these various constituent groups have their voices heard on Capitol Hill. At the same time, the statistics that I have seen say that in the first six months of 2009, more than a quarter billion dollars was spent on lobbying for health care. Does that gum up the system? Does that create a problem in and of itself?
Mr. LEE: You know, it's the whole issue of campaigning, let's say. This is a campaign for health care reform, one way or the other. Members of Congress, they're pretty smart people. They're looking for things or reasons to be in favor of reform. So I think that they have the ability to sift through the clutter that's out there.
SHAPIRO: And you don't think there's any point where that clutter just becomes too big, too much, too overwhelming?
Mr. LEE: I'm not sure that that's the case. Much like a congressional or a Senate campaign or a presidential campaign, I think that, you know, in the end…
SHAPIRO: Too much money can never be poured into it?
Mr. LEE: I'm not an expert in that area. Perhaps there's some point of no return, that too much money gums up the works a little bit. But I think that because both sides are fairly well represented in this, both sides are pretty well funded right now, I think members can see through that. I think they're going to vote for legislation they believe are going to be of the greatest benefit to their constituents. And that's all that matters.
SHAPIRO: Apart from the sort of black-and-white divide about a health care overhaul or no health care overhaul, a lot of money and effort seems to be invested in a particular group getting a particular outcome that benefits them. And I wonder whether you think that risks an overhaul, including things that are not really of good to society as a whole, but that are good for the group that spent the money on getting that provision in the legislation?
Mr. LEE: I think there are thousands of different efforts on every bill, not just in health care, but thousands of different efforts to try to influence the outcome of the legislation. Are there some outcomes that are better than others? I think the answer to that is yes. Can there not be legislation that includes 1,000 different components - good and less good, not bad, but less good - simultaneously working in the same legislation? I think so.
SHAPIRO: But lots of people are being paid lots of money to shape lawmakers opinions in favor of things that are not necessarily in the best interests of most people.
Mr. LEE: Well, I'm not sure that's the case. What has changed in the last five years in particular since I've been doing this is that millions of Americans are now reading this legislation online. That never used to happen. I think it's a wonderful thing. And members of Congress are now looking at the scrutiny that's happening because of this and making decisions now on the basis of, you know, I think most people are going to find out what's in this bill, even the small things.
SHAPIRO: And do you think the feedback that members of Congress get from their constituents is comparable to the efforts that a quarter billion dollars were spent on to get the ear of lawmakers?
Mr. LEE: Yeah, I don't think that there's any question about that it is. I think that it's at least equal to that. If an individual organization wants a piece of legislation that benefits their company, it sure better be something that can be clearly demonstrated that's going to favorably impact the health care of thousands, millions of Americans.
SHAPIRO: Paul Lee is senior partner and founder of Strategic Health Care, a lobbying firm here in Washington.
Thanks a lot.
Mr. LEE: Thank you, Ari, appreciate it very much.
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