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BY BILL MOYERS & MICHAEL WINSHIP

We've seen how Washington insiders write the rules of politics and the economy to protect powerful special interests, but now as we enter the holiday season, and a month or so after the election, we're getting a refresher course in just how that inside game is played, gifts and all. In this round, Santa doesn't come down the chimney -- he simply squeezes his jolly old self through the revolving door.

It's an old story, the latest chapter of which came to light a few days ago with a small item in Politico: "Elizabeth Fowler is leaving the White House for a senior-level position leading 'global health policy' at Johnson & Johnson's government affairs and policy group."

A familiar name. We'd talked about Liz Fowler on Bill Moyers Journal in 2009, during the early stages of Obama's health care reform. She was at the center of the action, sitting behind Montana Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee at committee hearings. We noted, "She used to work for WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the country. She was Vice President of Public Policy. And now she's working for the very committee with the most power to give her old company and the entire industry exactly what they want: higher profits, and no competition from alternative non-profit coverage that could lower costs and premiums."

After Obamacare passed, Senator Baucus himself, one of the biggest recipients in Congress of campaign cash from the health care industry, boasted that the architect of the legislation was none other than Liz Fowler. "I want to single out one person," he said.

Liz Fowler is my chief health counsel. Liz Fowler has put my health care team together... She put together the white paper last November 2008, [the] 87-page document which became the basis, the foundation, the blueprint from which almost all health care measures in all bills on both sides of the aisle came. She is an amazing person. She is a lawyer; she is a Ph.D. She is just so decent. She is always smiling, she is always working, always available to help any Senator, any staff. I just thank Liz from the bottom of my heart."

The health care industry was very pleased, too. Early on in the evolution of Obamacare, the Senate and the White House cut deals that protected the interests of the health care industry, especially insurers and the pharmaceutical companies. Lobbyists beat back such popular proposals as a public option, an expansion of Medicare, and a requirement that drug companies negotiate the prices they charge. As the eagle-eyed journalist Glenn Greenwald noted in The Guardian last week, "The bill's mandate that everyone purchase the products of the private health insurance industry, unaccompanied by any public alternative, was a huge gift to that industry." That sound you hear isn't jingle bells; it's cash registers ringing.

And Liz Fowler? The White House brought her over from Congress to oversee the new law's implementation, first at the Department of Health and Human Services and then as Special Assistant to the President for Healthcare and Economic Policy.

And now, it's through the revolving door once more. Yes, Christmas has come a little early for the peripatetic Ms. Fowler, as she leaves the White House for the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. As Greenwald writes,

"[Ms. Fowler] will receive ample rewards from that same industry as she peddles her influence in government and exploits her experience with its inner workings to work on that industry's behalf, all of which has been made perfectly legal by the same insular, Versailles-like Washington culture that so lavishly benefits from all of this."
Friends of Liz Fowler will say this is harsh -- that she was the talented, intelligent protégée of two liberal Democrats -- outgoing California Congressman Pete Stark and the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York -- who believed in public service as a calling. That she was seriously devoted to crafting a health care reform proposal that would pass. No doubt, but it's not the point. She's emblematic of the revolving door culture that inevitably means, when push comes to shove, corporate interests will have the upper hand in the close calls that determine public policy. It's how insiders fix the rules of the market, no matter which party is in power.

The last time we looked, 34 former staff members of Senator Baucus, whose finance committee has life and death power over the industry's wish list, were registered lobbyists, more than a third of them working on health care issues in the private sector. And the revolving door spins ever faster after a big election like the one we had last month, as score of officials, elected representatives and their staffs vacate their offices after the ballots are counted. Many of them head for K Street and the highest bidder.

When his administration began, President Obama swore he would get tough. "If you are a lobbyist entering my administration," he said, "you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years... When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am President. And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration as well."

Reforms were passed that are supposed to slow down the revolving door, increase transparency and limit the contact ex-officials and officeholders can have with their former colleagues. But those rules and regulations have loopholes big enough for Santa and his sleigh to drive through, reindeer included. The market keeps growing for insiders poised to make a killing when they leave government to help their new bosses get what they want from government. That's the great thing about the revolving door: one good turn deserves another.

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television, and was recently named a "Favorite TV Show of 2012" by The New York Times. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Obama swore he would get tough....... (3+ / 0-)
    When his administration began, President Obama swore he would get tough.

    "If you are a lobbyist entering my administration," he said, "you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years...

    When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am President.

    And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration as well."

    So where do we stand today on the above issues?

    "Who are these men who really run this land? And why do they run it with such a thoughtless hand?" David Crosby

    by allenjo on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 09:49:38 AM PST

    •  He never said Fowler couldn't lobby Congress (2+ / 0-)

      For all we know, she might never lobby this WH, which would make the president's assertions literally true--and largely irrelevant.

      Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

      by RFK Lives on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 10:32:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Fowler may or may not be a future problem. I (0+ / 0-)

        would like to think not.

        But it would be great if everyone else that came to the WH would be held to the high standards of Obama's words.

        I actually thought there are already a ban against lobbyists giving gifts to the administration, or even congress, for that matter.

        "Who are these men who really run this land? And why do they run it with such a thoughtless hand?" David Crosby

        by allenjo on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 02:33:33 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  We need to Cut the Cord (4+ / 0-)

    between money and politics in this country. It's a race to the bottom for anyone who isn't already well-connected.

    The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

    by teacherjon on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 09:50:23 AM PST

  •  And thus, democracy without (5+ / 0-)

    democratic outcomes. As usual.

    It is not just health care, but practically every issue in which special interests get theirs, while the public's wishes -- and as importantly, the nation's well-being -- is ignored. At best we get something where a plausible case can be made that the people are heard, but the net effect is bad.

    Not just health-care "reform" which still leaves the US as the worst place to get sick in the "rich" world, but troop withdrawals from nations while private armies, secret agencies, and technological terrorism spreads ever-wider through the world.

    It does seem to me that the linchpin of this "democracy without democracy" is the corporate mass-reach media. And until we deal with breaking up the de facto monopoly on media content and public discussion, any other sensible thing, such as ending corporate money and rewards in politics will never happen.


    The Internet is just the tail of the Corporate Media dog.

    by Jim P on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 09:54:32 AM PST

  •  Corporate America has a choke hold on DC (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    opinionated, vigilant meerkat

    It is all so efficient.  Political contributions, revolving doors, too big to fail.  Workers, middle class and people outside the bubble mean nothing to the Liz Fowlers of DC.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 10:02:59 AM PST

    •  Have to take exception (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shockwave

      to your statement "the Liz Fowler's of DC". I have no disagreement with Bill Moyers point about the revolving door, and the power of lobbyists. But I don't want this to go unnoticed as well:

      "Friends of Liz Fowler will say this is harsh -- that she was the talented, intelligent protégée of two liberal Democrats -- outgoing California Congressman Pete Stark and the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York -- who believed in public service as a calling. That she was seriously devoted to crafting a health care reform proposal that would pass. No doubt, but it's not the point."
      My daughter had the good fortune to work with Liz Fowler and she is everything that those who appeared to have spoken on her behalf to Bill Moyer said she was and more.  She was an incredible mentor and deeply cares about access to healthcare for all. It can be an ugly business public service, with high burnout I would imagine.

      As Bill Moyer says at the end of this aside, that is not the point of his post - to malign her character - but to address the problems in the system.

      I only hope that the people moving in and out of public service in DC have the integrity of Liz Fowler,

  •  ObamaCare will make a non profit option available (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brahman Colorado

    Daily Kos: A shocking Obamacare fact no one realizes

     http://www.dailykos.com/...

     Daily Kos: Revealing The Stealth Public Option

     http://www.dailykos.com/...

     U.S. to Sponsor Health Insurance Plans Nationwide - NYTimes.com

     http://www.nytimes.com/...

    Brand new favorite RSS feed of Daily Kos Radio Podcasts http://kagrox.libsyn.com/rss
    Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

    by We Won on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 10:38:38 AM PST

  •  thank you Bill, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lostinamerica

    I've been writing about that revolving door for 20 years now -  embedded in obscure environmental advocacy. But not lately.  

    Your persistence and resiliency is remarkable.

  •  Micheal Taylor at FDA (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CuriousBoston

    You should do a show on that guy if you want to discuss revolving doors.

    Taylor was appointed senior adviser of the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Commission (FDA) in 2009 by President Obama. He is currently Deputy Commissioner. Prior to that he was Vice President of Public Policy at Monsanto. Between 1994 and 1996 Taylor worked for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), where he was Administrator of the Food Safety & Inspection Service — another government agency set up to oversee the activities of corporations such as Monsanto. These posts were held by Taylor after he left King & Spalding, a law firm that represents the interests of, yep, Monsanto. There he established and led the firm's food and drug law practice. And before he worked for a law firm that represents Monsanto he was, unsurprisingly, a staff attorney at the FDA.

    I feel safer.

  •  The whole show, this week (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lostinamerica

    was excellent.  I found it interesting that the first two guests talked about the advantage to our country to go over the fiscal cliff and now, I'm hoping a deal is NOT reached.

    being mindful and keepin' it real

    by Raggedy Ann on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 11:14:58 AM PST

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