Republicans hit White House over role in ads supporting healthcare bill

The White House was heavily involved in shaping ads that outside groups ran in support of healthcare reform, House Republicans said Friday.

Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee have been investigating a 2009 agreement in which the pharmaceutical industry agreed to help pay for the healthcare bill and run ads supporting it. Democrats agreed not to purse certain policies that industry opposed.

The committee's investigation has produced very little new information about the deal with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), but Republicans are nevertheless rehashing the issue as they try to stoke public opposition to the healthcare law.

Republicans released a new batch of emails Friday showing that White House officials and prominent Democratic strategists helped coordinate advertising from PhRMA and other reform supporters. 

The White House also wanted its allies to use a specific message — tying healthcare to the overall economy, according to emails released by the committee.

“This is wrong, and the administration must be held accountable for this,” House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying World Freedom Caucus wants budget reforms attached to debt limit increase Trey Gowdy announces retirement from Congress MORE (R-Ohio) said at a news conference Friday.

Energy and Commerce Democrats, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), argued there’s nothing shocking about the White House working closely with groups that support a particular policy.

“There is nothing new here,” Waxman and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said in a statement. “The Republicans spent over a year on this investigation, received and reviewed countless documents from a dozen different organizations, and conducted multiple interviews – only to learn what was publicly reported years ago.”

Indeed, the existence of a deal between Democrats and PhRMA was well documented at the time. The fact PhRMA agreed to spend up to $150 million on ads supporting Democrats’ proposals was widely reported in 2009 during the debate on the legislation.

The GOP report details PhRMA’s membership in two 510(c)(4) advocacy groups, which paid for the pro-reform advertising. It also notes that those groups contracted with big-name Democratic ad firms, including the firm founded by Obama adviser David Axelrod.

The composition of those advocacy groups and their contracts with Axelrod’s firm were also widely reported years ago.

The White House also criticized the GOP memo, citing media reports in which Republicans acknowledged that they wanted to create a headache for Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager. Messina was deputy chief of staff during the PhRMA negotiations and features prominently in the e-mails the GOP has released.

“Republicans, who previously admitted this is not serious and merely a partisan effort to distract the President’s re-election campaign, are now attempting to recycle an old story that was well covered during the original debate three years ago," the White House said in a statement. "This House Energy and Commerce Committee has spent over $1 million in taxpayer dollars and the past 16 months making baseless, politically-driven allegations – but has done almost nothing to move legislation that would create jobs or grow the economy.”

— This post was updated at 4:30 p.m.