Obama Aides Helped Plan Ads to Back Health Bill, GOP Says

President Barack Obama’s aides helped plan a $150 million advertising campaign paid for by drug companies to support passage of the 2010 U.S. health-care system overhaul, according to memos provided by Republican lawmakers.

The drugmakers, along with lobbying groups for seniors and consumers, helped fund independent political groups to run the television ads while health-care legislation was being debated in Congress. The groups coordinated with Democratic strategists who worked with Obama’s staff on the effort, according to memos and e-mails among those involved that were released today by Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Democratic consultants working with the White House asked to meet supporters of the law “to discuss our ad campaign,” Ron Pollack, executive director of the Washington-based consumer group Families USA, said in a June 2009 e-mail to lobbyists at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “As I mentioned previously, I wanted to get some guidance from the White House about their messaging and how our effort can be consistent with that.”

“Before during and after the health-care debate, PhRMA engaged in the policy discussions,” Matt Bennett, a spokesman for the lobbying group, said by telephone today. “I can’t speak to the actions or decisions made by anyone in the White House.”

Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, called the Republican accusations “baseless” and “politically driven.”

‘Partisan Effort’

“Republicans, who previously admitted this is not serious and merely a partisan effort to distract the President’s re-election campaign, are now attempting to recycle an old story that was well covered during the original debate three years ago,” Schultz said in an e-mail.

The Republicans on the committee are targeting whether Democrats were promised political support from drugmakers in exchange for limiting what the industry would be asked to contribute under the health-care overhaul, Bloomberg News reported last month, citing people familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified because they were private.

The drug industry agreed to $80 billion to $125 billion in taxes, discounts and other concessions to help fund the health law’s programs. In return, they avoided potentially harmful policies, including one that would have let people import cheaper brand-name drugs into the U.S.

Republicans led by Representatives Cliff Stearns of Florida and Michael Burgess of Texas, say the memos show the Obama administration traded policy concessions in return for advertising support of the law.

Super PACs

“These PhRMA dollars were funneled to two new ‘Super PACs’, created and managed in part by White House officials, in order to win public support for the president’s bill,” House Republicans said in a memo outlining their views.

Obama’s $1 trillion, 10-year plan to overhaul the health system passed Congress without any Republican votes. Parts of the law expanding insurance coverage have been challenged as unconstitutional by 26 states, and the Supreme Court is slated to rule on those objections by the end of June.

According to documents released last month, PhRMA agreed to help back at least three different advertising and advocacy groups that pushed for health-care reform.

A PhRMA memo described a group called Health Economy Now, and said that under an agreement “the industry provides the majority of financial support for positive TV ads advocating passage of health reform.”

The drugmakers also provided financial backing for television ads thanking lawmakers for their support of an expansion of children’s health care under Medicaid, the U.S. insurance program for the poor, and a campaign called “Harry and Louise,” run with Families USA.

Representative Joe Pitts, a Republican from Pennsylvania who sits on the committee, said the Obama administration was hypocritical for using the outside groups to help back the law.

“The president has publicly condemned corporations funding advertisements through ‘innocuous-sounding’ third party groups, but he was more than happy to privately cut a deal with big drug companies to help push his health care bill,” Pitts said.

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