K Street money flowing into deficit panel

Members of the deficit-reduction supercommittee have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from special-interest groups, including a significant chunk from healthcare interests that want the panel to fail.

Healthcare political action committees gave more to the deficit panel members than political action committees (PACs) representing energy, defense and agriculture interests, which could also be under the knife, according to fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

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Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking member of the House Democratic leadership, does not sit on any regular committees with jurisdiction over the health industry, but has raised more than $57,000 from healthcare-related PACs since his appointment to the debt supercommittee.

Some of his contributions come from interests that want to minimize cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, such as the American Hospital Association, HealthSouth Corp., DaVita Inc. — which provides kidney dialysis treatment — and HCR Manor Care, which specializes in assisted-living care.

Other supercommittee members on both sides of the aisle have won contributions from healthcare interests since being named to the panel.

Hospitals, medical-device manufacturers and home-care experts in general would prefer that the supercommittee fail to reach a deal, say lobbyists familiar with the health industry’s strategy toward the panel.

An impasse would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to defense and non-defense programs, including a 2 percent cut to Medicare, but these healthcare groups believe this would result in smaller cuts than a deal. 

A handful of healthcare interests, however, do want a deal, and they have also given contributions to some supercommittee members. 

Doctors groups, for example, want a permanent fix to the scheduled cuts in payments they receive from Medicare. In every new Congress, doctors’ groups spend vast sums of money on lobbying and campaign contributions to influence lawmakers to postpone the cuts.

They hope the supercommittee will find a permanent fix and have given generously to its members.

Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.) received PAC contributions from the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American Academy of Otolaryngology, the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the American Chiropractic Association in the weeks after he was named one of three House Republicans on the 12-member committee on Aug. 10.

Since then, Upton has raised more than $180,000 from PACs, according to a fundraising report he filed Saturday with the FEC. That includes nearly $70,000 from healthcare-industry PACs.

While the contributions might help ingratiate these interests with the committee, their gifts make up only one of many factors that will influence whether a deal is forged.

“The stakes are high for anybody that is part of the federal budget, and healthcare is an enormous part of the federal budget,” said Steve Elmendorf, a principal at the lobbying firm Elmendorf Ryan. “The reality is there are a lot of stakeholders that have a lot at play, and healthcare is one of them.”

Elmendorf said companies are “going to make decisions based purely on the numbers” and could decide the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, would be better for business than a deficit-reduction deal.

But he questioned whether outside groups would have much influence on the secretive negotiations.

“The 12 members begin with the predisposition that they’re going to get a deal. They’re legislators. I think the ability of outside groups to influence a deal or no deal is pretty minimal.”

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), another member of the supercommittee, has raised more than $130,000 from special-interest PACs since being named the panel’s co-chairman on Aug. 10.

Nearly $20,000 of that total came from healthcare PACs while at least $6,000 came from energy-industry PACs and at least $2,000 came from defense-related companies — Raytheon and General Electric.

Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.), the third House Republican on the supercommittee, raised $705,000 in total contributions in the third quarter of 2011, including more than $475,000 after Aug. 10.

Healthcare companies and lobbyists hired to represent them gave Camp’s personal reelection fund at least $55,000 since his appointment, according to fundraising data filed with the FEC.

He received $5,000 contributions from the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association’s political action committee, the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ PAC and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) has received $30,000 from healthcare-related PACs since he joined the supercommittee, including $1,000 from General Electric, which could lose business if defense spending receives deep cuts.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has raised $21,000 from healthcare PACs and $39,000 from other PACs since joining the supercommittee.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has raised more than $80,000 in PAC contributions since early August. He collected $17,000 from healthcare PACs.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has collected over $41,000 from healthcare PACs since joining the supercommittee. That amount exceeded the $32,000 he raised from all other industry PACs combined since Aug. 10.

Good-government watchdog groups have called on lawmakers to suspend all fundraising activity while serving on the supercommittee, but, so far, only Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has agreed to a moratorium. He raised only $25,575 in the third quarter of 2011.

Other members appear to have restrained their fundraising activity in response to the criticism. Clyburn, Becerra, Upton, Baucus and Toomey raised less through their personal campaign accounts in the third quarter than in the second.

Only Hensarling and Van Hollen raised more in the third quarter than in the first or second quarters.

The latest campaign fundraising reports for the remaining members of the panel, Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), were not available at press time. 

— Peter Sullivan and Mario Trujillo contributed to this report.