Memos released Friday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee reveal the Obama administration coordinated a $150 million advertising campaign with pharmaceutical companies in support of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, also known as PhRMA, along with lobbying groups for seniors and consumers, helped fund a reboot of the the iconic "Harry and Louise" television ads that helped sink President Clinton's efforts to enact health reform.
The updated version, run in 2009 while President Obama's health care overall was being debated in Congress, employed the same actors arguing in favor of overhauling the health care system. The money for the ads was funneled through two Super PACS organized in part by White House officials, including the deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina.
Top Republican lawmakers claim the ads were paid for as part of a closed-door deal promising drug companies policy concessions worth billions of dollars.
"E-mails obtained by the Energy and Commerce Committee show that the White House traded billions of dollars in policy concessions to PhRMA for millions of dollars worth of advertising," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said today. "The administration created and managed a super-PAC paid for by PhRMA and run by Jim Messina out of the West Wing of the White House. This is wrong and the administration must be held accountable for their actions."
The committee also released documents showing PhRMA's chief lobbyist relaying that then-White House chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel asked for "Harry and Louise ads thru third party" on July 7, 2009, the same day White House officials met behind closed doors with PhRMA CEOs. PhRMA aired the ad just a week later.
While White House involvement in PhRMA's ad campaign was first reported during the health reform fight in 2009, the newly released report from Republicans on Capitol Hill includes the emails that show high level engagement between Obama aides and PhRMA.
"The materials reflect negotiating tactics used by top White House personnel including threats of public criticism and policy declarations," wrote the committee staff. "They also show that PhRMA was assured a "direct line of communication" with the White House, and that the organization was offered private reassurances about the deal remaining intact in spite of congressional concerns."
The White House is calling the accusations "baseless" and "politically driven."
"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 old news that was well covered during the original debate three years ago," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
President Obama has been critical of the influence interest groups and lobbyists have on public policy.