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Republicans say Obama administration wasn’t transparent on health-care law

By N.C. Aizenman,

House Republicans released a cache of e-mails Friday to point out what they contend were stark contradictions between President Obama’s stated commitment to transparency and the administration’s closed-door negotiations with sectors of the health industry in the lead-up to the 2010 health-care law.

The release — on the heels of another batch of e-mails published last month — culminates a 16-month investigation by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee into how the law was crafted.

Several industry groups handed over the e-mails voluntarily after the White House refused to release them.

The tactics employed by the administration and its allies in Congress, as well as the deals the administration reached with key industry groups to secure passage of the health-care law, have been well documented.

And the documents released Friday essentially conformed to that narrative.

But they offered a more intimate glimpse into some of the behind-the-scenes discussions with organizations such as the industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

In the early 1990s, the pharmaceutical and insurance industries had helped torpedo President Bill Clinton’s health proposals by spending tens of millions in advertising against the plan. Arguably the most memorable spots were television commercials created by a now defunct insurance industry group featuring “Harry and Louise,” a couple with doubts about the plan.

But by the start of Obama’s presidency, officials at PhRMA had concluded that a health-care overhaul was inevitable, or at least likely enough, that their best strategy was to have a seat at the negotiating table. This time around PhRMA spent heavily on television advertisements supportive of of a health-care overhaul.

In one of the e-mails released Friday, PhRMA’s chief lobbyist reported that the White House had a particular request concerning the ads.

Then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel asked for “Harry and Louise ads thru third party” he wrote.

In a statement, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee that conducted the investigation, suggested this amounted to hypocrisy. “President Obama promised the most transparent administration in our history and railed against third-party advertising. We now know that Obama pressured the pharmaceutical industry in secret meetings to fund third-party advertising in support of Obamacare,” he said.

PhRMA Senior Vice President Matthew Bennett countered in a statement that “PhRMA has a long history of advocating for policies that ensure patient access to innovative medicines and foster medical progress.

Before, during and since the health-care debate, PhRMA engaged with Congress and the Administration to advance these priorities.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the document release was politically motivated.

“Republicans, who previously admitted this is not serious and merely a partisan effort to distract the president’s reelection campaign, are now attempting to recycle [an] old story that was well covered during the original debate three years ago,” he said.

“This House Energy and Commerce Committee has spent over $1 million in taxpayer dollars and the past 16 months making baseless, politically driven allegations — but has done almost nothing to move legislation that would create jobs or grow the economy.”

That sentiment was echoed by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Cal­if.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), ranking Democrats on the committee and subcommittee involved.

In a joint statement, they said, “What President Obama did is no different than what Presidents from Lyndon B. Johnson to George W. Bush have done to pass their key legislative initiatives.”

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