How can true health care reform come about when powerful lobbyists and government advisers come from or work on behalf of the industry we’re trying to overhaul?
BILL MOYERS: You know from the news that early next week the Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote on its version of health care reform. And therein lies another story of money and politics.
Polls show the overwhelming majority of Americans favor a non-profit alternative -- like Medicare -- that would give the private health insurance industry some competition. But if so many Americans and the President himself want that public option, how come we're not getting one?
Because, the medicine has been poisoned from day one, in part because of that same revolving door that Congresswoman Kaptur and Simon Johnson were just talking about. Movers and shakers rotate between government and the lucrative private sector at a speed so dizzying they forget who they're working for.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Our plan does not include a public option.
BILL MOYERS: Take a close look at that woman sitting behind Montana Senator Max Baucus. He's the Democrat who's the Chairman of the Finance Committee. Liz Fowler is her name. And now get this. She used to work for WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the country. She was Vice President of Public Policy. And now she's working for the very committee with the most power to give her old company and the entire industry exactly what they want: higher profits, and no competition from alternative non-profit coverage that could lower costs and premiums.
I'm not making this up. Here's another little eye-opener. The woman who was Baucus' top health advisor before he hired Liz Fowler? Her name is Michelle Easton. Why did she leave the Committee? To go to work -- where else? -- at a firm representing the same company Liz Fowler worked for WellPoint. As a lobbyist.
It's the old Washington shell game. Lobbyist out, lobbyist in. And it's why they always win.
They've been plowing this ground for years, but with the broad legislative agenda of the Obama White House, it's more fertile than ever. The health insurance industry alone has six lobbyists for every member of Congress, and more than 500 of them are former congressional staff members.
Just to be certain Congress sticks with the program, they've been showering megabucks all over Capitol Hill. From the beginning, they wanted to make sure that the bill that comes out of the Finance Committee next week puts for-profit health insurance companies first, by forcing the uninsured to buy medical policies from them. Money not only talks, it writes the prescriptions.
In just the last few months, the health care industry has spent 380 million dollars on lobbying, advertising and campaign contributions. And a million and a half of it went to -- don't hold your breath -- Finance Committee Chairman Baucus, who said he saw "a lot to like" in two proposed public options but voted "no."
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: My job is to put together a bill that gets 60 votes. Now I can count and no one has been able to show me how we can count up to 60 votes with a public option in the bill.
BILL MOYERS: Of course not. They can't get 60 votes. Not when the people who want a public alternative can't possibly scrape up the millions of dollars Baucus has received from the health sector during his political career.
Over the last two decades, the current members of the Senate Finance Committee - you're looking at them -- have collected nearly 50 million dollars from the health sector. A long-term investment that's now paying off like a busted slot machine.
Not that we should be surprised. A century ago, muckraking journalists reported that large corporations and other wealthy interests virtually owned the Senate, using bribery, fraud, and sometimes blackmail to get their way. Jokes were made about the Senator from Union Pacific or the Senator from Standard Oil.
This fellow in particular was out to break their grip. His name was David Graham Phillips, and one day in 1906, readers of Cosmopolitan Magazine opened its March issue to discover the first of nine articles by Phillips titled The Treason of the Senate.
He wrote: "Treason is a strong word, but not too strong, rather too weak, to characterize the situation in which the Senate is the eager, resourceful, indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be..."
The public outrage provoked by Phillips and other muckrakers contributed to the passage of the Constitutional amendment providing for the direct election of Senators, who until then were elected by easily bought-off state legislators.
Of course, like water seeking its own level, big money finds its way around every obstacle, and was soon up to its old tricks, filling the pockets of friendly politicians. Today none dare call it treason. So how about calling it what it is: a friendly takeover of government. A leveraged buyout of democracy.
Outrageous? You bet. But don't just get mad. Get busy.