Outside The Beltway, Anger At Business As Usual The swarm of lobbyists on Capitol Hill is the norm to beltway insiders. But when we posted a picture on NPR.org of the mass of lobbyists in the audience of a Senate session on health care, many visitors to our site responded with shock and anger.
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Outside The Beltway, Anger At Business As Usual

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Outside The Beltway, Anger At Business As Usual

Outside The Beltway, Anger At Business As Usual

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Nancy Pelosi is presiding over a House that is tackling several daunting issues all at once. Overhauling any one of the big three: health care, financial regulation or energy would change a huge sector of the economy. Well, now imagine overhauling all of them at once. And Congress is trying to do it while lobbyists from myriad interest groups saturate Capitol Hill.

NPR's Dollar Politics team has been watching this confluence of legislating, lobbying and money and filed this update. Here are Peter Overby and Andrea Seabrook.

PETER OVERBY: We had no idea how big a splash a simple photo could make through emails, tweets, comments at npr.org.

ANDREA SEABROOK: People in Washington and around the country said they'd never seen anything like it before.

OVERBY: A panoramic shot of the lobbyists watching the first congressional committee to write a health care bill.

SEABROOK: We posted the photo at npr.org and asked you to help us identify the lobbyists. It's a little trick of modern reporting called crowd sourcing and the tips started coming immediately. We then worked to verify them.

OVERBY: So we can now tell you that Marc Schloss was at that first health care session. He works for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. They spent about $1.4 million lobbying Congress last year. And Kalah Auchincloss is at the lobby firm Foley Hoag. You can see her in the picture leafing through papers. In 2008, her firm took in more than a million dollars from health care clients.

SEABROOK: We've now identified 16 people in the photo, lobbyists with big interests in how the health reform debate turns out. But just as interesting as the photo itself was people's reaction to it and how many different ways it can be looked at.

Mr. BRETT COUGHLIN (InsideHealthPolicy): It helped me put a face to a name.

OVERBY: Brett Coughlin, who reports for InsideHealthPolicy, a trade Web site, turns out, he's been trying to interview one of those lobbyists for some time.

Mr. COUGHLIN: Now I know what she looks like and I can track her down if I see her at a hearing or, you know, in the halls on Capitol Hill somewhere.

SEABROOK: A couple of the lobbyists identified themselves or their colleagues. Michelle Dirst of the American Psychiatric Association, was pointed out by her boss, Nicholas Meyers. He hopes some of the psychiatrists she lobbies for, go and look at the picture.

Mr. NICHOLAS MEYERS (American Psychiatric Association): They deserve to know that we're there and we're on the job. And they would be upset if they thought that we weren't.

SEABROOK: Meyers said health reform will directly affect how psychiatrists practice and how they get paid. And if it looks as if pay-to-play politics has taken over Congress…

Mr. MEYERS: Well, that's the system we have and it's the system that we live with.

Ms. PAULA APYNYS: Here in Akron, Ohio, we sit there and go, that's what's so awful.

OVERBY: That's Paula Apynys. She and her husband run a little design firm in Akron. She responded to the photo like dozens of other people we heard from. She looked at it and saw no one there to represent her.

Ms. APYNYS: The feeling that you get is that everything that comes out of Washington in the end benefits people that are already well-off. I don't want to oversimplify it, but I just want to say that, you know, on one hand, your bankers have been well taken care of and taken care of very swiftly.

SEABROOK: In a matter of weeks last fall, Congress approved hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out big financial companies. Now, Apynys says, as she watches lawmakers inch along on health care, she has a sick feeling in her stomach.

Ms. APYNYS: And all we can do out here in the hinterlands is just ache. I mean, you just sit out here and you just think, you know, the next person is going to die because they can't get coverage.

SEABROOK: So, in a way, the photo shows us not just 200 people in a room, but a microcosm of the remarkable process that's taking place in the Capitol in the summer of 2009.

OVERBY: People inside the beltway find the picture interesting and useful, if a little bit obvious. People outside the beltway are mostly angry. They feel helplessly drowned out of the debate.

SEABROOK: Everybody shows a voracious appetite for more information about the players lobbying Congress on health care, climate change, financial regulation.

OVERBY: Who those players are and how much money they have behind their arguments.

Peter Overby.

SEABROOK: And Andrea Seabrook.

OVERBY: NPR News, Washington.

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