Opponents of health-care effort look to fund a critical economic study

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 16, 2009

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an assortment of national business groups opposed to President Obama's health-care reform effort are collecting money to finance an economic study that could be used to portray the legislation as a job killer and threat to the nation's economy, according to an e-mail solicitation from a top Chamber official.

The e-mail, written by the Chamber's senior health policy manager and obtained by The Washington Post, proposes spending $50,000 to hire a "respected economist" to study the impact of health-care legislation, which is expected to come to the Senate floor this week, would have on jobs and the economy.

Step two, according to the e-mail, appears to assume the outcome of the economic review: "The economist will then circulate a sign-on letter to hundreds of other economists saying that the bill will kill jobs and hurt the economy. We will then be able to use this open letter to produce advertisements, and as a powerful lobbying and grass-roots document."

James P. Gelfand, the e-mail's author, confirmed its authenticity in a brief telephone conversation Sunday evening. He said the campaign against Democratic health legislation would only be launched "if that's what it found," but declined further comment and referred questions to a Chamber spokesman.

The behind-the-scenes effort by the business groups to influence the legislative debate is part of an intensifying series of attacks by the opponents of Democratic health-care plans. President Obama has said he wants a final bill on his desk by the end of the year, leaving opponents little time to raise new objections as the legislation marches forward.

The Chamber and the White House have been at odds for months, with the group opposing Democratic efforts on both health legislation and climate change, two of Obama's priorities. Chamber officials have also charged the administration with pressuring some member companies to quit the group.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to unveil by Tuesday a bill assembled from the several measures passed in Senate committees during the past several months. A House measure passed by a slim margin.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Republican leader, on Sunday called for a delay in the Senate's consideration of the legislation. Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," McConnell said that he and his 99 colleagues should have time for thorough review of the legislation.

"The only way to guarantee that for sure is to delay the process, allow everyone to fully understand what's in the bill," McConnell said.

Speaking from Singapore on CNN's "State of the Union," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the president wants the legislation finished by the end of the year and will "push very hard" to meet that goal.

"There has been a long, vigorous, thorough debate and it's time to get it done," Axelrod said.

The proposed economic study by the Chamber is the latest example of attempts by advocates and opponents of health-care reform to influence the debate with economic studies whose authenticity is later questioned by their adversaries.

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