Millions are being spent to lobby Congress on health care overhaul

The Kansas City StarOctober 19, 2009 

Americans may be growing sick of the debate over health care reform.

Lobbyists, though, are getting well.

In the first six months of 2009, financial disclosures show, health care groups spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars -- that's billion, with a "b" -- to hire lobbyists who can influence Washington's deliberations on health care and insurance reform.

That total, which doesn't include lobbying by health insurance groups, is expected to grow by $125 million or so this week, when lobbyists submit disclosures for July, August and September -- the months when work on health care reform got serious.

That's on top of the $485 million that health groups spent on lobbying last year.

"What many of these groups are trying to do is spend one dollar now to save 10 dollars later," said Dave Levinthal of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which compiled the spending numbers. "If you're a drug company, for example, you want to make sure that you're at the table."

Health care groups aren't the only ones spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the health care reform campaign.

Political parties, industry and trade associations, labor unions, grassroots groups and others are paying for radio and TV commercials, news conferences, newspaper ads, rallies, billboards, e-mails and Web sites, all pushing various positions on the complicated legislation.

The spending is so widespread that figuring out the final total may never be possible, Levinthal said, but $1 billion isn't out of the question.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver -- watching the health care overhaul in Washington -- said lobbyists were so thick it was hard to walk across the street from his office to the Capitol to cast a vote.

"I've never seen anything like this in 30 years in politics," the Missouri Democrat said.

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