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Vote: Which Democrat Doesn’t “Walk the Talk” On the Public Option?

As cynical veterans of the FISA battle well remember, Democratic members of Congress are full of good intentions until their vote actually matters.  It happened with troop withdrawal, torture, military commissions, climate change, banking regulation — somehow just enough progressives are MIA such that nothing gets done.  Big coal gets bailed out, AIG gets bailed out, Afghanistan is a quagmire, Blackwater still has government contracts (but ACORN doesn’t). 

The fact is, Democrats own all this stuff now. 

Despite the fact that any 40 Democrats can stop any bill from passing if the GOP votes "no" in a block (which they seem to be doing with some regularity these days), they can never seem to muster quite enough when they are actually needed.  

So who has been talking big on health care reform, promoting themselves as heroes of the public option, but then refuse to say that they’ll be there when it matters?   Who is trying to chalk up street cred on a public plan while taking huge payouts from the medical industrial complex at the same time? 

We started out with the 55 members of the House in safe Democratic districts (D+10 or better) who did not sign on to the letter pledging to vote against a bill that does not have a public option.  We had 11 heats that led to 3 semi-final days, each day looking into the comfortable relationships that each of these members have with heath care lobbyists and the industry.  We’re down to the final three.  And so without further ado, here they are, so ladies and gentlemen, cast your votes:

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL)

Day I — Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

Debbie’s Florida district is  D+13. But she has leadership ambitions, and those aren’t cheap. She says she is working for a public plan but that she’s "not someone who draws lines in the sand." Good DLCer that she is, drawing "lines in the sand" is something she reserves for controlling the budget.

Her donations from health care interests are $34,000 this cycle, but she’s got some heavy hitters. She’s taken money from the PACS of DaVita, Humana, Amgen, GlaxoXmithKlein and Johnson & Johnson, and her personal supporters seem to be big on choosing lobbying as a career. She’s taken contributions from Kelly Bingel, David R. Thomas and Dan Castagnetti from the Mehlman, Vogel and Castagnetti firm, who all represent AHIP. And also $1000 from Karen Ignani personally, the brain trust behind AHIP who helpfully conceived of the blueprint for the Baucus bill.

It will be interesting if Debbie’s lack of "lines in the sand" allow her to scurry over to the AHIP Baucus bill and vote for it if it comes down to it. Will her need to "get something passed" coincidentally allow her to do the very thing that her lobbyist donors want her to? What a win-win that would be.

Anna Eshoo (D-CA)

Day II:  Anna Eshoo

Anna Eshoo has been PhrMA’s woman on the Hill. She was a sponsor of the Eshoo/Barton amendment that extended the period of monopolies for biologic medicines and blocks the registration of generics, which was a giant wet kiss to drug manufacturers.   

She voted "no" on allowing the reimportation of prescription drugs, but cosponsored the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007.  That bill, of course, had no chance of passing since George Bush would never sign it.  

Her PAC donors are a who’s who of the pharmaceutical world:  Pfizer, Amgen, Baxter Healthcare, Genentec, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis, and AstraZeneca just for starters.  So far over $58,000 of the $86,000 she’s raised from health care interests in the 2010 cycle have come from drug company interests.

Individual donors include money from lobbyist David Castagnetti, whose firm is being paid by AHIP and Humana to kill the public option.  Eshoo’s former legislative director Stacey Rampy is another donor who now works for Castegnetti, as do David Thomas and Kelly Bingel, who also made Eshoo campaign contributions.

She has said she is committed to a public insurance option:

Eshoo said legislation without a public option would fail in the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives: "I think that the White House can’t help but have a strong sense of where the House is and how many votes that represents."

 She notably did not say whether her vote would be one of them.

Xavier Becerra (D-CA)

Day III — Xavier Becerra

Becerra has taken more money from health care interests in the 2010 cycle than any other semifinalist — over $121,000.  That includes generous PAC money from both AHIP, Wellpoint and Blue Cross Blue Shield.  It also includes an individual donation from the CEO of Molina Healthcare,  a company working diligently to destroy the public option.

Lobbyists like Tom Crawford of the C2Group (Acuity Health Care), Steve Elmendorf (UnitedHealth), Courtney Johnson of the Alpine Group and a "health care breakfast" fundraiser with a $2500 pricetag for PACS have insured that stakeholders looking for a bailout have had plenty of opportunities to get a hearing from Rep. Becerra.

Becerra is or isn’t a strong supporter of the public option, depending on who he’s talking to.   He made a strong case for a public option when he released a report with Pete Stark and Campaign for America’s Future on 27 advocating for one.  On a public radio appearance on September 4 he said it would be "difficult to believe" that meaningful reform was possible without one.  

Speaking to the DC insider-ish rag The Hill on September 3, however:

Becerra on Thursday made it clear that he would be prepared to follow the president down a road that is short of his vision for a perfect healthcare system.

Becerra has leadership ambitions, and can always be counted on for his vote in the end.  It will be a happy coincidence if the thing that makes his lobbyist donors happy makes leadership happy too.  In the mean time, he’d like credit for his "good intentions."

Cast your vote!

The winner will get:

  • A dedicated landing page collecting all of the crowd sourced information about their relationships with lobbyists and their voting history
  • Educational calls into every Democratic household in the district letting them know the member won’t take a stand to defend the public option
  • Post cards to every Democratic home in the district, directing them to the website and letting them know the member’s history with lobbying interests
  • An automated call-in number for people (seniors) who can’t login to the website

Despite all the noise in the Senate, the only true firewall that will keep a bill from passing without a public plan is a 40 vote block in the House. It’s wrong for these members to go around trumpeting their support for a public plan and then throwing off all the political consequences on Raul Grijalva, Keith Ellison, Maxine Waters and others when it comes to actually fighting for one.

Whose district needs to know that their rhetoric just isn’t matching up with their actions?

Vote now.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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