Spotlight on healthcare moving from committees

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has said he has the votes to clear his bill, though he will need at least one yes vote from three senators who have not committed: Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

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The Finance Committee bill does not call for a public option, setting it apart from the legislation passed by three House panels and the Senate  Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Baucus has said there aren’t 60 votes in the upper chamber to pass a healthcare bill with a public option.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has a different perspective, saying last week, “We are going to have a public option before this bill goes to the president’s desk. I believe the public option is so vitally important to create a level playing field and prevent the insurance companies from taking advantage of us.”

Staff has been working for weeks on how to meld the Finance Committee and HELP measures. But before the bill can emerge on the Senate floor, big issues beyond the public option remain to be settled by senators, such as whether to penalize individuals who don’t have health insurance and how to structure the taxes and fees that will pay for reform.

From there, the bill would have to be reconciled with the House, where Democratic leaders have yet to meld their own disparate versions of reform.

At a press conference where he was surrounded by doctors dressed in their white coats, President Barack Obama on Monday continued to press Congress to act.

Jack Lewin, CEO of the American College of Cardiology, credited the president for keeping his eye on the main goal: passing a reform bill.

“The president is trying to keep this moving. He’s got the right idea,” Lewin said.

Of the bill, Lewin says he believes the Finance Committee may be the “safest platform” for healthcare reform because it could attract the support of Blue Dogs in the House.

Physicians groups are lobbying Congress to pass some type of medical liability reform and scrap the Medicare payment formula. Obama has suggested he is open to some type of remedy to reduce the amount of medical lawsuits, but healthcare experts say the doctors groups are more likely to secure policy changes on the Medicare reimbursement system.



On financial reform, action behind the scenes


House lawmakers will dig into the specifics of financial reform next week, but the biggest pending bill is likely to be debated behind the scenes.

Lawmakers are still wrestling with the details of the administration’s proposal for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) that would have power over products such as home loans and credit cards.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) scaled back the proposal to win support from centrist Democrats wary of the scope of the new agency.

But committee Democrats still are split on whether the new agency should set a floor or ceiling for regulations at the state level. The issue of pre-emption is emerging as a major sticking point in the debate over the new agency.

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Financial industry lobbyists and Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed to the creation of the new agency.

While lawmakers continue to hash out the proposal, Frank has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on “interchange fees” that credit card companies are paid by retailers and other stores.

The issue is heavily lobbied on Capitol Hill and pits retailers and store owners against much of the financial industry. Meanwhile, Frank is urging regulators to move up the effective date of new regulation of the credit card industry.

Both efforts are an attempt to push legislation reining in the financial industry while lawmakers pursue the broader goals of financial reform.


BKSH, Timmons to merge


BKSH & Associates and Timmons and Co. have joined forces and will be known as Prime Policy Group.

The firms have already operated under the same corporate umbrella, the public relations giants WPP Group. Prime Policy will be a direct subsidiary of Burson-Marsteller, which is also owned by WPP.

Scott Pastrick of BKSH, who will be president and CEO of the new firm, said the two companies are a good fit culturally. Pastrick’s firm has had a good experience in mergers before, joining forces with Gold & Liebengood in the 1990s. Pastrick, a former campaign adviser to President Bill Clinton, said the merger will expand the reach each firm had on its own.

“I think clients are looking for more value, not less,” Pastrick said. “This is one more way of bringing more value to clients with a deeper bench and more relationships. This is an answer to the economy but also what the next generation of firms is going to look like.”

The new firm will be staffed by 40 people, with 28 lobbyists joining from BKSH and 12 from Timmons. Thirteen of those will be Democrats and 11 Republicans. No layoffs are planned for the firm’s lobbying corps, said Howard Paster, executive vice president of WPP.

“That was the purpose of the deal. All of the professional staff will be kept,” said Paster, who worked at Timmons before leaving the firm in 1992.

The merger will bring some of the more well-known names in the lobbying community together. Charlie Black of BKSH, an adviser to several Republican presidential candidates, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) last year, will be chairman of the new firm.

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Marty Paone of Timmons, who worked for close to 30 years for Senate Democratic leadership, will be executive vice president for Prime Policy.

BKSH is the bigger of the two firms, having earned about $3.4 million in lobbying fees this year from more than 60 clients, according to lobbying disclosure records. Timmons has earned about $2.3 million in fees and lobbied for more than 15 clients in that same time period, according to disclosure records.

Those are slight declines for both. BKSH posted $4.3 million in lobbying revenue for mid-year 2008 and Timmons earned $2.6 million during that same time period.

BKSH has lobbied for AT&T, Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Coca-Cola Co., while Timmons has worked for clients like the American Medical Association, Chrysler Group and Visa in 2009.

Timmons may be the smaller firm, but it is one of the oldest names on K Street, having been founded in 1975.

Pastrick expects the new firm will be filing its disclosure form under the Prime Policy name by the fourth quarter of this year. The new firm will set up shop at BKSH’s location just off K Street at 1110 Vermont Ave. NW, with the move by Timmons expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Silla Brush contributed to this article.