Grassley’s green

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It looks like he wants to pull the plug on Obama. In the past week the Iowa Senator has pressed the Administration to release its justification for drone assassinations; grilled Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew about his personal finances; and today threatened a hold on the Hagel nomination over questions on Benghazi. And according to The Daily Nonpareil‘s Tim Rohwer:

Grassley also criticized Obama’s tax policies, especially the lack of specifics.

“He never has to lay anything out in a specific way. He wants more revenue to spend more money and then he wants tax reform. If you are going to have tax reform, you can’t close tax loopholes and spend it. You’ve got to close loopholes and take ‘x’ number of dollars from the loophole you close to offset tax reform.”

With Grassley in the news so much lately — and since he’s a member of both the Senate Finance Committee and the Judiciary Committee, which will be very active in the coming few months — I thought this would be a good time to look at who donates what to him.

The ranking minority member of the Health Care Subcommittee exerts a great deal of influence over Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, among other programs. Perhaps not coincidentally, Grassley’s top donor is health insurance megaprovider Blue Cross Blue Shield, which has injected his campaigns with $90,000 since 1989. Amgen, a multinational pharmaceutical company, ranked second with nearly $80,000. Also in his top twenty list were supplemental health insurance providers AFLAC (14th); nursing home trade association the American Health Care Association (15th); the American Chiropractic Association (18th); and the American Hospital Association (20th).

Grassley, who sits on the Finance Committee, has also received plenty of money from groups with vital interests in tax and entitlement policy. The fourth largest bank in the US, Wells Fargo, has given him $63,000, putting them third on his list. Des Moines investment and insurance firm Principal Financial Group (fifth), Omaha investor Warren Buffett‘s conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway (tenth), and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (16th) have all pitched more than a few bucks his way.

The Senator and inveterate Tweeter also receives numerous contributions from communications corporations such as telecom Verizon (fourth) and its parent company AT&T (13th), as well as lobbyists the DCI Group (seventh), who advocate on telecom issues for clients such as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (12th).

Agricultural machinery makers John Deere come in sixth, with their headquarters in Moline, Illinois. Electric utility company NextEra Energy ranks eighth on his list; like Verizon (third) and Wells Fargo (fourth) it spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress and subsequently paid no taxes from 2008-2010 — in fact these companies received hundreds of millions of bucks back in rebates. Rounding out his list are lobbying group the Associated General Contractors of America (ninth); British PR firm the WPP Group (11th); the National Auto Dealers Association (17th); and the National Beer Wholesalers Association (19th).

Hatch’s plans

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How can the government squeeze more money out of the elderly? Raise the Medicare eligibility age, privatize the program, and block grant Medicaid, suggests Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Sound familiar? It’s essentially the Clinton-Gingrich pact from 1997 that only fell apart because of the President’s blow job. Now, with another conservative Democrat in the White House and Republican in the Speaker’s chair, the plan’s being floated again.

As Shamus Cooke of Global Research wrote today:

The main reason that health care reform became a national priority for Obama is because it was a priority for big business: corporations have long complained that their employee health care costs were too high. And they’ve always hated paying payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Obama has responded gallantly to these grievances, as he did to the banks when they demanded to be bailed out with taxpayer money.

Obama has remained mostly quiet about his Medicare plans, but has stated repeatedly ” all options are on the table” (his favorite Bushism). The secretiveness is based on the unpopularity of the options, all of which have already been openly discussed in the media in the last two years of bi-partisan “Grand Bargain” haggling.

Orrin Hatch, as the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, will play a central role in the budget kabuki this month and afterward. In preparation, I’ve taken a look at Hatch’s top twenty career donors from OpenSecrets.org.

Many of the Senator’s contributions come from the pharmaceutical and health care industries. His top donor, giving him over $110,000 since 1989, was health insurance behemoth Blue Cross Blue Shield. Supplemental health insurance company Aflac (fourth) contributed $82,000. The world’s largest pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, came in third. Competitors GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly were fifth and sixth. Pharma multinational Amgen (ninth); kidney dialysis supply company Fresenius Medical Care (12th); rehabilitative hospital operators HealthSouth (15th); and Schering-Plough (17th), now merged with Merck & Co.

Two of Hatch’s top twenty donors have specific Utah ties: O. C. Tanner (seventh), a Salt Lake City human resources company; Provo-based direct-sales supplement marketers Nu Skin Enterprises (20th).

The rest of the Senator’s list contains an amalgam of wealthy corporations. Cerberus Capital Management, an investment firm, ranked second with $106,500. Also contributing significant amounts were hotel franchisor Marriott International (eighth); London advertising giant WPP (tenth); telecom multinational AT&T (11th); computer company Oracle (13th); supermajor oil and gas corporation Chevron (14th); the sixth-largest firm in the US, conglomerate General Electric (16th); accounting powerhouse Ernst & Young (18th); and international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (19th).

Jessica Zigmond of Modern Healthcare reports the roles Obama and Hatch have chosen — and that both wish to champion “entitlement reform”, and are only haggling over what form those cuts will take.

The president reiterated his view that the ideal way to reduce the deficit is through a deal that includes both spending cuts and tax reform. And if Congress can’t agree on a larger deal by March 1, Obama added, lawmakers should pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would also further delay the sequester for a few more months.

“I’ve offered sensible reforms to Medicare and other entitlements, and my healthcare proposals achieve the same amount of savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms that have been proposed by the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission,” the president said.

***

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member on the influential Senate Finance Committee…. chastised the president’s plan to delay the looming sequester.

“When it comes to our debt, we need to focus on structural entitlement reforms,” Hatch said in a statement.

OpenWyden

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Can the President kill you just for looking at him funny? As the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to take up the nomination of John Brennan for Director of the CIA tomorrow (February 7), NBC News has published a “white paper” the Department of Justice gave to Congress justifying the assassination of US citizens by the executive branch without judicial review. However, as Marcy Wheeler points out:

[It is] not the actual legal memos used to authorize the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and who knows who else. As Michael Isikoff notes in his story, the Senators whose job it is to oversee the Executive Branch — even the ones on the Senate Intelligence Committee that are supposed to be read into covert operations — are still demanding the memos, for at least the 12th time. The release of this white paper must not serve to take pressure off of the White House to release the actual memos.

And further:

Ron Wyden, who has gotten this white paper, still keeps asking this question.

“Is the legal basis for the intelligence community’s lethal counterterrorism operations the 2001 Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or the President’s Commander-in-Chief authority?”

With Wyden likely to appear more often in the spotlight in days to come, I decided to look at who has funded his campaigns, through the website OpenSecrets.org. (Recent articles have focused on fellow Intelligence Committee members Mark Udall, Carl Levin, and chairperson Dianne Feinstein.

The Oregon Senator’s top donor is sports apparel multinational Nike, headquartered in Beaverton, near Portland; it has contributed over $74,000 to him since 1989. Intel, which is the state’s largest employer with its facility in Hillsboro, gave nearly $54,000, putting it fifth on the Senator’s list. The Oregon Health & Science University, with campuses and hospitals in both Portland and Hillsboro, comes in eleventh.

The legal industry represents Wyden’s biggest source of donations. The world’s largest law firm, DLA Piper, ranked second with $64,000, and the trial lawyers’ lobby the American Association for Justice came in third. Both unions and business groups contribute heavily to Wyden as well. The Teamsters rank sixth, teachers’ union the National Education Association ninth, and the United Transportation Union 15th. On the other hand, the National Association of Realtors ranks 14th, and the National Automobile Dealers Association 16th.

The health care industry (his second largest source of funds) has a particular interest in the Senator, who has a seat on the Special Committee on Aging and oversees Medicare, Social Security, and nursing home conditions, among other issues. Nursing home trade group the American Health Care Association ranks seventh, the hospital administrators’ American Hospital Association 12th, Blue Cross Blue Shield 17th, and nursing home group Manor Care 18th.

The Big Four accounting firms feature often in the top twenty list of contributors to the Senate Finance Committee and Taxation and IRS Oversight Subcommittee member. Deloitte ranks eighth with $50,000, PriceWaterhouseCoopers tenth, and Ernst & Young 20th. Professional organization the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants came in 19th.

Rounding out the list are telecom supremo AT&T (fourth) and the National Jewish Democratic Council (13th).

Wyden’s close ties with the health care and insurance industries may explain some of his corporate-friendly proposals to change the US health insurance system. When advocating the Healthy Americans Act he co-sponsored in 2009, an alternative to Obamacare that would have even further enshrined the private insurance market into law, he pooh-poohed single-payer systems and even the public option:

“A lot of the people who are for a public option want a single-payer system, and they haven’t minced any words about it. Bless their hearts, extra points for honesty. But that’s not where I am.”

Likewise, in 2011Wyden teamed up with Paul Ryan and proposed partially privatizing Medicare.

Beaucoup bucks for Baucus

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Money doesn’t simply talk in Washington, DC — it whispers in the ears of the powerful and it silences all opposition. The recent career of Max Baucus (D-Montana), top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee since 2001, provides a case in point. As Dustin Hurst of the conservative watchdog.org reported just last month:

[T]he Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney detailed how more than $60 billion in corporate handouts found their way into the fiscal cliff bill. The handouts were copy-and-pasted by the White House into the bill, using the Baucus-created Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act of 2012 as the blueprint.

Things only grew worse for Baucus when Carney dug even deeper, finding that the multinational corporations benefiting from the handouts, known in Washington-speak as “tax extenders,” employ a number of the senator’s former staffers who’ve left public service for greener pastures.

Baucus, the Finance Committee’s current chairman, has collected over five and a half million dollars during the course of his career from the finance, insurance and real estate sector. Baucus’s top donor therein, tossing him nearly $100,000 since 1989, was financial titan Goldman Sachs. American International Group (AIG), which the Federal Reserve bailed out during the financial crisis of 2008, pitched the Senator $91,000, putting it in third place; on the other hand, New York Life Insurance Company, which ranks second on his donor list, declined TARP funds. JPMorgan Chase (sixth), whose two trillion dollars in assets make it the largest bank in the country, donated just over $75,000 to the Senator; its daughter corporation, Morgan Stanley (tenth), gave slightly under that amount. Citigroup (11th) and Wells Fargo (12th), two of the other Big Four US banks, each contributed a little over $70,000 to the Montanan. American Express (16th) and Prudential Financial (17th) tossed in about $60,000 as well.

His second largest source of funds, the health sector, has produced nearly four million bucks for his campaigns. This includes health insurance megafirms Blue Cross Blue Shield (fourth) and Aetna (fifth), which put in over $80,000 apiece, as well as Kindred Healthcare at 19th. Pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough, which merged with Merck in 2009, ranked eighth, while pharmacy claims processor Express Scripts was 13th. Kidney dialysis company DaVita made it to 15th; biotech firm Amgen, which will sell its dialysis drug Sensipar to Medicare for up to half a billion dollars more (due to a paragraph Baucus helped insert into January’s “fiscal cliff” agreement) ranked 20th with $55,750.

What influence did these health care and insurance companies gain for their donations? As observers of negotiations over what’s now called Obamacare may recall, and as Wikipedia summarizes:

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus called the first Senate meeting of interested parties before the committee to discuss health care reform, including representatives from pharmaceutical groups, insurance companies, and HMOs and hospital management companies. The meeting was controversial because it did not include representatives from groups calling for single-payer health care.

The Washington Post‘s Dan Eggen reported at the time (July 21, 2009):

As his committee has taken center stage in the battle over health-care reform, Chairman Baucus (D-Mont.) has emerged as a leading recipient of Senate campaign contributions from the hospitals, insurers and other medical interest groups hoping to shape the legislation to their advantage. Health-related companies and their employees gave Baucus’s political committees nearly $1.5 million in 2007 and 2008, when he began holding hearings and making preparations for this year’s reform debate.

Top health executives and lobbyists have continued to flock to the senator’s often extravagant fundraising events in recent months. During a Senate break in late June, for example, Baucus held his 10th annual fly-fishing and golfing weekend in Big Sky, Mont., for a minimum donation of $2,500. Later this month comes “Camp Baucus,” a “trip for the whole family” that adds horseback riding and hiking to the list of activities.

To avoid any appearance of favoritism, his aides say, Baucus quietly began refusing contributions from health-care political action committees after June 1. But the policy does not apply to lobbyists or corporate executives, who continued to make donations, disclosure records show.

Other major contributors to Baucus over his career so far include: accounting giant Ernst & Young (sixth); international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (ninth); multinational conglomerate General Electric (14th); and telecom Verizon (18th).