POLITICS

Lawmakers start cashing in on health care 'reform'

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Democrat Earl Pomeroy's vote for the health care bill may have cost him his seat in Congress, but it also earned him a job on K Street.

Last week, on the last day of Pomeroy's 18-year stint as North Dakota's at-large congressman, K Street giant Alston & Bird announced that he was joining the firm's health care lobbying division.

The congressman is merely the latest lucky winner in the Great Health Care Cash-out, a tawdry spectacle that further sullies Washington's lobbying culture, and also demolishes President Obama's insistent claims that his health care push was a battle against the special interests. In truth, the bill's subsidies and mandates are a boondoggle for the powerful drug industry and were received warmly by hospitals and the doctors lobby.

Congressmen rarely return to their home districts after leaving office, and with Pomeroy there was never a doubt he was headed to K Street. One of the biggest benefactors -- and beneficiaries -- of Pomeroy's congressional career was the life insurance industry, and sure enough, the American Council of Life Insurers twice (in 2003 and in early 2010) considered hiring Pomeroy as president, according to reports by the Associated Press and Roll Call.

One reason Pomeroy was considering retirement in his recent term was the health care debate. He knew the measure would be a loser in North Dakota, and a yea vote could sink him. Sure enough, his opponent, Rick Berg, hammered him for twice backing Obamacare. While Pomeroy knew Dakotans wouldn't like his vote, he also knew that it would play well with powerful special interests. Responding to Berg, a Pomeroy ad name-checked the lobbies backing him: AARP, the North Dakota Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association, and the North Dakota Public Health Association. Which constituency was he appealing to?

Pomeroy's No. 3 source of funds in the campaign was the American Medical Association. America's Health Insurance Plans -- the lobby for health insurers -- gave the maximum $10,000 to Pomeroy, most of that coming after his vote for the health care bill. The political action committees for Aetna, AstraZeneca, Sanofi-Aventis and WellPoint all funded Pomeroy's run.

Pomeroy will still get checks from these companies, but rather than deposit them in his campaign coffers, he'll deposit them in his personal bank account. Alston & Bird's health care clients include the Massachusetts Hospital Association, Aetna and HealthSouth.

Ethics law prohibits Pomeroy from lobbying the House for two years, but he can get started by lobbying the Senate and executive-branch agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services. You can imagine the phone call, "Secretary Sebelius, we haven't spoken since you asked me to support your health care bill, but I was hoping you had time to hear Merck's perspective on the bill's implementation."

Pomeroy is only the first elected official to join the Great Health Care Cash-out, but keep an eye on others, like former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, whose wife sits on the board of health insurer WellPoint. Three top aides at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions have cashed out after playing a central role in drafting the health care bill, landing plush gigs representing the drug makers profiting from their legislative handiwork.

While Republican health care staffers have also cashed out since the bill passed, the evidence suggests that backing "reform" was far more lucrative than opposing it.

At Alston & Bird, Pomeroy joins former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan. Dole, you may recall, was praised by Obama and high-fived by the credulous news media as a wise elder statesman rising above the partisan fray with his support of Obamacare -- which profited his clients.

Meanwhile, Obama never stopped turning for counsel to Dole's Alston & Bird colleague, Tom Daschle. "He is one of a number of people that provides outside advice to the White House," a spokesman told the New York Times, "and the president greatly appreciates that advice and Tom's friendship."

Daschle, a key guiding force behind the health care bill, soon jumped to a second K Street firm, DLA Piper, where he replaced another former majority leader: top House Republican Dick Armey. Conservative Armey lost his job at DLA Piper because of his extracurricular anti-Obamacare advocacy, which upset the firm's drug-maker clients.

If Pomeroy was undecided on Obamacare, watching how Dole and Daschle prospered -- and how Armey found himself on the bricks -- must have made his decision easier.

Dozens of Democrats lost their seats by voting for the health care bill. In the liberal mythology this shows a martyr-like willingness to do the right thing at any cost. Pomeroy's path shows how lucrative such a "sacrifice" can be.

--- CORRECTION: This column originally stated that the American Hospital Association was an Alston & Bird client, which is not correct. The Greater New York Hospital Association and Massachusetts Hospital Association clients, but not the AHA.

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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