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Top Obama health aide cashes out after health 'reform'

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An Obama appointee who played a central role in crafting the 2010 health care bill has cashed out to a well-connected lobbying firm, where her first clients are two of the bill's beneficiaries: abortion provider Planned Parenthood and a hospital chain.

Liz Engel was deputy assistant secretary for legislation at the Department of Health and Human Services. Today she is a managing director at the Glover Park Group in the health and wellness practice. Her story further highlights the coziness of this administration with the abortion industry, and also undermines President Obama's portrayal of the health care bill as a broadside against special interests.

Most importantly, Engel's spin through the revolving door shows the emptiness of the new ethics rules that the White House brags about at every opportunity.

Engel was already an accomplished private-sector lawyer in 2007 when she came to the Democratic Senate Policy Committee to serve as "health policy adviser." After the 2008 election, she joined Obama's transition team, working on the health care policy working group.

According to her bio on the Glover Park Group website, her job there was "conducting outreach on behalf of the health care policy working group to trade associations, businesses, unions and advocacy organizations." In other words, she helped persuade industries to support Obama's plan. In the end, the drug lobby, the doctor lobby, and the hospital lobby all backed the bill -- and, of course, so did Planned Parenthood.

Engel's boss at the task force was former Sen. Tom Daschle, a consultant at the lobbying firm Alston & Bird, where he had health care clients. Engel's task-force colleagues included former Daschle staffer Mark Childress, a health care lobbyist at the well-connected firm Foley Hoag.

Daschle's nomination to head HHS flamed out, but Childress became chief of staff at the department. Engel was one of his first hires.

She served two years as HHS's lobbyist on Capitol Hill, leaning on her former Hill colleagues. Her focus, according to her current K Street employers, was "Medicare, Medicaid and other critical issues related to health reform."

In March, Engel jumped to the Democrat-heavy Glover Park Group. It was another episode in what I call "The Great Health Care Cashout." Of the congressional aides who played central roles in crafting the health care bill, a handful have already gone to work for drug companies or lobbying firms that represent health care companies.

In fact, two Democratic congressmen who delivered key support for the bill -- Reps. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota and Bart Stupak of Michigan -- have gone to K Street to represent health care companies during the implementation stage of the subsidy-and-regulation-laden bill.

Engel's very first lobbying client, according to the Lobbying Disclosure Act database, was Planned Parenthood, for whom she lobbied on "matters relating to health reform." Also on Glover Park's Planned Parenthood account is another Obama administration alumnus, Grant Leslie (also a former Daschle aide), and former Arlen Specter health care adviser John Myers, another participant in the Great Health Care Cashout.

Planned Parenthood, a close ally of the Democratic Party, lobbied fiercely to strike the provisions in the House bill (inserted by Stupak) that would have prevented the bill from subsidizing abortion coverage. The administration successfully fought to save the subsidies for Planned Parenthood and the rest of the abortion industry. Now Planned Parenthood is paying two of the bill's authors -- Myers and Engel. (Engel's second client is a nonprofit hospital chain.)

This is exactly the sort of unsavory Beltway mess candidate Obama ran against, and which President Obama claimed he was addressing with a Day One executive order containing what he called a "revolving door ban." The order prohibits Engel from lobbying senior administration officials for the rest of Obama's presidency, but it allows her to lobby her old congressional colleagues -- the same people the taxpayers paid her to lobby on behalf of HHS.

The Great Health Care Cashout in which Engel is the latest big winner shows the toothlessness of Obama's ethics policies, but it's also further evidence of how Obamacare represented a big victory for the big health care providers and their lobbyists -- contrary to Obama's talk of "taking on the special interests."

Big government greases the revolving door. Had Congress passed a reform reducing the role of government in health care, companies would have less need for the consulting and lobbying work of folks like Engel, Daschle, Myers and the others who shaped the legislation.

Charity demands we assume no bad motives of the revolving door health care reformers. But prudence demands that we follow their movements.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.

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