The First Amendment recognizes the right of the people to petition the Government for redress of grievances. The exercise of this right is usually present when several groups lobby their interests to legislators. Lobbying implies talking with a legislator in an attempt to make an influence to the vote of the said legislator regarding a certain issue (Black's Law Dictionary). During the process of lobbying, a lobbyist may seek to have a certain bill passed, amended or defeated by making use of certain time-tested techniques. He or she may socially befriend legislators, make contributions to the campaign organization of the legislators, build coalitions in supporting a program, or cause an avalanche of letters to urge compliance (Rodee).
The term interest group may broadly be defined as an organization that attempts to influence the decision-making process of the government (Rodee). The existence of interest groups is in consonance with the principles of democracy. In a pluralistic society such as the United States, there is a need for the presentation of the public's varied interests. Interest groups differ from political parties in that they do not seek direct political participation. They rather attempt to influence political processes indirectly (University of Virginia).
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In the current issue on health care reform, several interest groups have taken big steps in influencing, or attempting to influence, legislators. Some groups spent a lot of money in order to support or oppose health care reform.
Brief Overview of Debate on Health Care Legislation
On the 25th of February, President Obama met with House and Senate leaders to discuss the comprehensive health reform. On March 18, House Democrats had revealed the legislation that would improve the Senate-passed bill. The key aspects of the legislation are affordability for the middle class, accountability for the insurance industry, and accessibility for all Americans. On March 21, the Senate version of the health insurance reform was passed by the House by a vote of 219 to 212. It was sent to the President to sign into law on March 23.
The House had also passed a Reconciliation bill improving the Senate bill, and the same was passed by the Senate on March 25, with two minor changes. On the evening of March 25, the House passed the bill by a vote of 220-207. On March 30, President Obama signed the bill into a law (Speaker Nancy Pelosi). The final health insurance reform legislation which is the Senate bill that was improved by the Reconciliation Act is said to aim at ensuring the Americans an access to quality and affordable health care.
Despite the Democrats' historic thrust to pass the comprehensive healthcare legislation, many opposing groups are still lobbying for change, with passions that are burning high. Various interest groups that are fighting over the health care overhaul are now battling in a new arena, trying to sway the law to their benefit and helping the legislators who supported their agenda during the legislative debate (Eggen, For many interest groups, health-care bill's passage isn't the end).
Key Interest Groups in Health Care Debate
Various groups are voicing their views on the health care overhaul. This is even the Congress has spoken on the issue. For them, the health care debate is not yet over. Much can still be done to influence the legislators to amend, or even repeal the law.
Those that support the health care overhaul are spending millions of dollars on advertisements and town hall meetings that are aimed at selling voters on popular provisions of the law. AARP, a seniors group supporting the health care overhaul, is in want to make it easy for Medicare recipients to have drug discounts that the pharmaceutical companies will be obliged to give them (Fram). The group launches a big educational campaign to proclaim the law's benefits to AARP members. They are likewise pushing for implementation of prescription drug relief for the seniors. They also push for the formation of a new panel in order to help set Medicare policies (Eggen, For many interest groups, health-care bill's passage isn't the end).
There are also groups persuading people to sign up for the law's programs. Families USA proposed a multi-million dollar campaign that would promote enrollment.
The group's executive director said that he believes that this effort would result in the registration of several million people (Fram).
There are also a number of groups opposing the legislation. Some groups that opposed the overhaul, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, concede that there is no chance that the law will be repealed this year. This is especially because the White House and Congress are controlled by Democrats. Opponents are thus hoping for their best opportunity for change when Republicans win in Congressional elections in November and in Presidential elections in 2012. For the U.S Chamber of Commerce, the debate is not yet over, even when a law has already been passed (Fram). The group had already announced spending $50 million on political races in 2010. And after the law was enacted, the group has signaled that it will be pushing for business-friendly changes to the law when the officials begin drafting the implementing rules and regulations. The Chamber President, Thomas Donohue, said that they will be working through all available avenues in order to fix the flaws of the legislation and minimize its harmful impacts (Eggen, For many interest groups, health-care bill's passage isn't the end).
Americans for Prosperity has led anti-overhaul bus tours around the U.S. last year. Tim Phillips, the group's head, said that the vote in favor of the law has "awakened the sleeping giant" of conservatives who opposed President Obama's policies. He further said that more than 300,000 of its members have already signed the petition that warns the Democrats "that their days in Washington are numbered" (Eggen, For many interest groups, health-care bill's passage isn't the end).
For some interest groups, the passage of the law has only intensified the efforts to punish enemies and reward friends. MoveOn.org, for example, raised more than a million dollars for an opponent of Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, a Democrat that the group considers as too centrist (Fram). The group likewise released a TV ad targeting House Minority Leader Boehner for opposing the antitrust bill (Eggen, Expecting final push on health-care reform, interest groups rally for big finish). Right to Life has also endorsed primary opponents to certain legislators, i.e. Reps. Alan Mollohan and Nick Rahall. The group has warned the congressmen that the pro-life voters will be reminded of how the congressmen voted on this issue (Fram). Likewise, groups in favor and against abortion have announced their plans of funding the opponents of Rep. Bart Stupak who pleased neither side in his anti-abortion maneuvering (Eggen, For many interest groups, health-care bill's passage isn't the end).
The Impact of Interest Groups in Health Care Legislation
Since the inception of the current health care debate, many groups have spent millions of dollars to create an impact to lawmakers. Some groups, however, influence the debate without disclosing their donors. The League of American Voters, for example, spent $550,000 for ads targeting members of Congress who seem persuadable in terms of the heatlh care bill. Before the law was passed, this group tried to kill the bill through spending a lot in advertisements. However, the group is hesitant of disclosing its donors, and just said that it is funded by individual donations. The group further noted that it is not funded by medical, insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies. The group argued that there is no need to disclose the donors as it is not required by law and that the other side would harass the donors if their names are disclosed (Montopoli).
Respecting the donors' confidentiality is one good thing. However, in the health care debate, this might not be a good idea. Sometimes, it is important to know who funds and supports a particular campaign in order to know the campaign's true intention. This is in light of the possibility that there might be groups who use as a protective cloak the image of promoting public interest when in fact they are only pursuing their own selfish interests.
Considering that the health care overhaul has already been enacted into law, it could be argued that several interest groups had been successful in forcing legislators to promote the overhaul. The TV ads were a big thing in influencing the legislators.
At first, these ads influence the people or the voters. Then, the politicians, in their fear of not being supported by voters in the next elections, vote in favor of the idea that receives popular support, which is particularly shaped by the ads.
As the opponents of the overhaul said, the battle is not yet over. They may still seek redress by influencing the politicians in the drafting of the law's implementing rules and regulations. But as to whether their call for not supporting the Democrats in the next elections is successful, we shall wait to see whether they will be triumphant in this matter.