Dole, a health sector lobbyist, gets the statesman treatment

In August, a Republican majority-leader-turned-lobbyist took to the public with his health care message — and he was derided as a paid shill.

In October, a different Republican majority-leader-turned-lobbyist went public with his health care message — and he was hailed as a bipartisan statesman.

The difference? The former — Dick Armey of Texas — was opposing President Barack Obama’s push for new health care mandates, regulations, taxes and spending programs. The latter — Bob Dole of Kansas — supported this “reform.”

But here’s another difference that makes the disparate treatment that much more undeserved: Armey’s much-maligned opposition to health care “reform” put him at odds with the pro-“reform” interests of his big business clients and his lobbying firm. Dole’s much-lauded support of “reform” serves the interests of his corporate clients.

Dole made news Wednesday by calling on his party to back Democratic health care reform bills currently before Congress, calling health care reform “one of the most important measures members of Congress will vote on in their lifetimes.”

The New York Times, The Associated Press, Salon, the Chicago Tribune and The Kansas City Star reported Dole’s comments, but all omitted a seemingly relevant fact: Dole is a registered lobbyist with clients who stand to profit from the current Senate reform bill.

Dole is a lobbyist at the firm Alston & Bird, where his clients include the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. The association pays Alston & Bird $30,000 per month to lobby Congress and the administration on “issues in health reform relating to home health and hospice,” according to Alston & Bird’s second quarter 2009 lobbying report.

In September, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., amended his reform bill to expand Medicaid funding for home health care and to include hospice care — care for the dying — under Medicaid as well. This accelerates the flow of taxpayer money to Dole’s clients. Now, Dole is rallying the public behind this “important measure” and winning praise for his “bipartisanship.”

The liberal media has trumpeted this lobbyist’s endorsement without reporting his clear financial stake in the legislation. To Team Obama and its allies in the press, Dole’s backing is a sign of the overwhelming importance of their mandates, regulations, spending and taxes.

A liberal Huffington Post blogger wrote, “The level of Republican obstructionism and failed leadership has reached the point where even one of the Senate’s greatest obstructionists [Dole] is calling on his party to do better.”

Dole’s firm has other health sector clients who would profit from Democrats’ health care legislation. Alston & Bird clients Humana and HealthSouth are insurers who would benefit from the legislation’s mandate that everyone buy health insurance, along with from increased subsidies for private insurance.

The American Hospital Association and the Tennessee Hospital Association, Alston & Bird clients, also get increased access to taxpayer money through this bill. Dole is not registered to represent these clients, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do these clients’ bidding in the public and in the media.

Dick Armey, meanwhile, was assailed as a scheming lobbyist when he — as head of the free-market activist group FreedomWorks — rallied the public this summer against Obama’s plan. For instance, the Times’ Frank Rich wrote, “One group facilitating the screamers is FreedomWorks, which is run by the former congressman Dick Armey, now a lobbyist at the DLA Piper law firm. Medicines Company, a global pharmaceutical business, has paid DLA Piper more than $6 million in lobbying fees in the five years Armey has worked there.”

But Armey’s anti-Obamacare agitation upset DLA Piper’s clients enough that he was driven out of the firm for it. “The firm has not, on its own behalf or on the behalf of any client, directly or indirectly opposed any of the pending health care reform bills. On the contrary, DLA Piper represents clients who support enactment of effective health care reform this year,” the company said.

And Armey’s drug industry client said, “The Medicines Co. has not opposed any of the pending health care reform bills and has not in any way supported any efforts to disrupt open debate about health care reform.”

So Armey lost his million-dollar job for opposing Obamacare. Dole gets a hefty paycheck for supporting it.

Dole on Wednesday accused Republican leadership of knee-jerk obstructionism and pleaded with his party to be more “open for business.” There’s no doubt Dole is open for business. And Dole shows us that these days, big government is a growth industry.

Timothy P. Carney is The Washington Examiner’s lobbying editor.

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