Turns out not everybody was distressed that Congress has been tied up in knots for months obsessed with the self-imposed fiscal cliff crisis.
The lobbying industry, which had previously been in the dumps because of the do-nothing Congress, came roaring back to life in 2012, due in large part to the prolonged budget crisis.
According to the Center For Public Integrity, about half of the country’s top 100 lobbying firms spend more in the fourth quarter last year than they did in the third quarter, and about half showed an overall increase for 2012 over the previous year.
The top spender was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which laid out a whopping $125 million in 2012, an 88 percent increase over the previous year. That doesn’t include the $36 million they paid to influence the outcome of the election. Another big spender was J.P. Morgan, which served up $8.8 million in lobbying and another $784,923 to influence the election.
This increased lobbying activity unfortunately goes on outside public view. Only later can we tally up the damage from this legalized corruption of our democracy – and our pocketbooks.
And when lobbyists win, so do the corporations that pay them big bucks.
I wrote earlier this month about the corporate goodies hidden away in the fiscal cliff deal that represented just a part of the lobbyists’ handiwork – a down payment from members of Congress on their debt to the corporations who foot the bill for their campaigns and other political adventures.
Because there was no grand bargain, Congress couldn’t go all the way on their corporate overlords’ agenda, such as implementing the Social Security and Medicare cuts the CEOs have been hammering away at.
One of the most recent glaring examples of how our government does corporate bidding in secret, contrary to the public good, is the recent favor Congress did for biotech and pharmaceutical giant Amgen, hidden in the fiscal cliff deal.
As revealed by investigative reporters for the New York Times, Amgen received a very profitable gift in that deal – an exemption from Medicare price controls for one its kidney dialysis drugs. It’s the second such exemption Amgen obtained for the drug, Sensipar, which accounted for $950 million in sales last year, an 18 percent increase over the previous year.
So the $7.6 million the company paid for lobbying, and another $1.7 million in political contributions the company showered on both parties, was a small price to pay the government to keep its mitts off the company’s hot property.
At the center of the fiscal cliff deal were two senators, one Democrat, Max Baucus, and one Republican, Mitch McConnell, who are prime recipients of Amgen’s generosity. Since 2007, Amgen has given Baucus $67,500 and McConnell $73,000.
Amgen has also donated $141,000 to President Obama, who signed off on the fiscal cliff deal.
Congress’ secret favor for Amgem is expected to cost Medicare $500 million.
In December, before the fiscal cliff deal was set, President Obama was stressing the importance of reducing Medicare costs.
“I’m willing to reduce our government’s Medicare bills by finding new ways to reduce the cost of healthcare in this country,” Obama said. “That’s something that we all should agree on. We want to make sure that Medicare is there for future generations. But the current trajectory of health care costs is going up so high we’ve got to find ways to make sure that it’s sustainable.”
The Amgen exemption also highlights the revolving door nature of business in Washington; current lobbyists for Amgen include former chiefs of staff for Baucus and McConnell.
A Vermont congressman has introduced legislation to undo Amgen’s sweet deal. Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, told the Los Angeles Times: “Amgen managed to get a $500-million paragraph in the fiscal-cliff bill and virtually no one in Congress was aware of it. It’s a taxpayer ripoff and comes at a really bad time when we’re trying to control healthcare costs. Amgen should not be allowed to turn Medicare into a profit center.”