The New York Times on both its editorial and news pages pushes for more centralization of power in Washington, but sometimes even its reporters must step back and wonder, like Lt. Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai, “What have I done?”
Writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes in this morning’s NYT that “Washington’s health care revolving door is spinning fast as the new online health insurance marketplaces, a central provision of President Obama’s health care law, are set to open Oct. 1. Those who had a hand in the law’s passage are now finding lucrative work in the private sector, as businesses try to understand the complex measure, reshape it by pressing for regulatory changes—or profit from it.”
Stolberg describes “boom times for what might be called an Obamacare cottage industry, providing work for dozens of former administration and mostly Democratic Congressional officials whose immersion in health policy minutiae, and friendships, make them invaluable to private business.”
Stolberg provides specifics:
- Dora Hughes worked in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for four years and is now a “strategic advisor” for Sidley Austin, “which represents insurers, pharmaceutical companies, device makers and others affected by the law.”
- Liz Fowler, who helped draft the legislation as chief health counsel for the Senate Finance Committee, now works for Johnson & Johnson, “the medical equipment and pharmaceutical giant, which strongly backed the health bill and stands to benefit from it.”
- Yvette Fontenot worked on the health bill as an aide to the Finance Committee, later moved on to the White House, and four months ago went to work for the Avenue Solutions lobbying firm.
- Nancy-Ann DeParle, Obama’s former “health czar” and later his deputy chief of staff, is now a partner in the Consonance Capital private equity firm.
- Former U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., voted for the healthcare bill and lost his reelection bid, but don’t cry for him: He now a lawyer for Alston & Bird representing healthcare clients.
- Elizabeth Engel, who oversaw health legislation for HHS, now advises healthcare clients for the Glover Park Group.
The NYT’s “arggh” about all this: “The health care industry now spends more money on lobbying in Washington than any sector of the economy, according to the Center for Responsive Politics here. … Critics say these former officials are cashing in, trading on the relationships and expertise they acquired while working for the taxpayers, and cite such career moves as proof that Mr. Obama has not lived up to his promise to change the culture of influence peddling in the capital.”
It does seem unethical to centralize power in D.C. and then stay at the center and cash in, but be not afraid: Reporter Stolberg, a journalistic anthropologist, tells us that “the progression from government to the private sector is also predictable, a window into the peculiar rhythms of life in the capital.”
Those rhythms are like mama birds feeding their babies: “Young aides, often fresh out of college or graduate school, acquire highly specialized knowledge but eventually settle down, build lives and long for jobs that pay more and let them see their children at night.” Sweet.
Stolberg quotes James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, calling all the activity “a natural phenomenon.” Candidate Barack Obama in 2008 criticized this natural phenomenon, aka “insider lobbying,” and pledged to end it, but that was then and this is now.
And here’s the most vivid quotation in Stolberg’s story: “The tentacles of Obamacare touch everybody—health insurance companies, doctors, the payers,” said Ivan Adler, a McCormick Group executive recruiter who specializes in Washington’s K Street lobbying corridor.
Good word: “tentacles.”