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In 2007, new ethics rules were passed to keep lobbyists from paying for the travel expenses of members of Congress. According to the New York Times, however, such regulations are filled with loopholes and are constantly manipulated. An article in today's paper exposes several trips taken by members of the House of Representatives that were "indirectly" paid for by lobbyists:
Despite changes intended to curb Congressional junkets, some lawmakers and even their families continue to take trips hosted by private groups and companies that revel in their access to Washington power brokers.
An examination by The New York Times of 1,150 trips shows that some of them bent or broke rules adopted in 2007 to limit corporate influence in Washington. Others exploited glaring loopholes in the guidelines...
How do lobbyists and Congressmen avoid ethics regulations?
The rules are filled with odd contradictions. Lobbyists themselves are not allowed to pay for trips, but their corporate clients can. And lobbyists are permitted to give huge sums to nonprofit groups that can sponsor travel. They can also travel to destinations and meet the lawmakers once they get there, though they cannot go on the same plane... The companies finance much of this travel indirectly, getting around the spirit of the rules by giving money to nonprofits, some of which seem to exist largely to sponsor trips.
Of course, this is unsurprising when one considers just how much lobbyists are willing to spend to get the ear of those in power. Over the summer it was revealed that the healthcare industry was spending a staggering $1.4 million a day on lobbying. Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-MT) has accepted $2,890,631 in healthcare lobbying money over the course of his career and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV.) has taken in a whooping $1,979,076 in healthcare money. Even more astounding, President Obama has accepted $20,064,596 in campaign contributions from healthcare and health insurance interests.
But, the realization that congressmen are willing to bypass their own ethics rules to receive perks raises an important question about the healthcare debate: When considering healthcare legislation, are our lawmakers representing the will of the people or the will of palm-greasing special interests?
A look at the Reid bill sheds some light on this subject. Under the Reid proposal, the federal government will mandate and subsidize private health insurance. This means that it will serve insurers as many as 46 million new customers on a silver platter and then help pick up the bill. Consumers will be forced to purchase a product that they may not want and all the while insurance companies will reap the benefits. Consider that President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers reported that the average annual premium for single coverage is $4,321. If the 46 million uninsured are forced to purchase health insurance, then the insurance industry stands to make up to $200 billion in new insurance premiums per year. They would also receive $848 billion in taxpayer subsidies over the next 10 years in the Reid bill.
If Senator Reid is able to pass such a gigantic boondoggle, then healthcare lobbyists will undoubtedly line up to reward him with an all expense paid get-away (paid for "indirectly" of course).