Rep. Grijalva: Everything in Baucus bill “had to be approved by the industry”

This morning Democracy Now! interviewed Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is vowing to withhold support from any health care reform bill lacking a strong public option. Amy Goodman asked Grijalva about the significance of the revolving spinning door between the industry and Senator Baucus’ staff, citing research first published on Eyes on the Ties:

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Grijalva, I also want to ask you about Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus and his close ties to the healthcare industry. Yesterday, the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Baucus had distributed his healthcare plan to lobbyists on K Street prior to sharing the plan with other members of the committee.

Meanwhile, the watchdog website has revealed Senator Baucus’s chief health adviser, Elizabeth Fowler, is a former executive for the insurance giant Wellpoint. Fowler has been called the “chief operating officer” of the healthcare reform process. Baucus’s previous chief health adviser, Michelle Easton, now lobbies for Wellpoint. also reports that another Senate staffer working on Baucus’s healthcare bill, Cathy Koch, is a former lobbyist for health insurance and pharmaceutical interests, including an insurance industry front group. Koch worked as the director of global government affairs at the drug company Amgen until early 2007. Before that, she worked at Ernst & Young, where she lobbied on behalf of a number of large insurance and pharmaceutical companies, including Aetna, Blue Cross, Eli Lilly and Pfizer.

What is your response, considering how central Max Baucus is to determining what Congress will come up with?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: I think the product that has come out from his committee and himself, I really believe that it has no legitimacy in this debate. It’s an insider product. It’s there to protect the industry. It is not there to try to look for that middle ground. He is key in holding up deliberations, has been key in trying to work on a consensus, but everything you see in his legislation had to be approved by the industry before it became part of the plan. So I don’t think it’s legitimate. I think we’re struggling with real issues in some of the other pieces of legislation from the House and even from the Health Committee. And that’s where the focus of the attention should be. I consider Senator Baucus’s proposal to be essentially an insider trader move to protect an industry and really doesn’t have validity at all, both political validity or content validity.

Not that anyone believes there’s a firewall between health care policy and industry influence, but it’s a pretty big deal if what Rep. Grijalva says is true and WellPoint lobbyists have greater power over health care legislation than the president himself. Let’s hope someone finds a way to put these questions to Baucus directly.

If Baucus really is the health insurance industry’s HQ in Congress, and Baucus is doing his darndest to put down the public option, then the public option has itself become a last stand against the corrupting influence of money in health care policy. As Rep. Grijalva concludes: “It’s got to be part of [the bill]. If it’s not, we are just showering money upon money upon the same system and the same industry that got us into the mess we’re in right now.”