|NEWS FROM WASHINGTON|
The Washington Times: GOP demands answers from AARP on health deals
A group of GOP House and Senate lawmakers asked the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to explain the extent to which it coordinated with the White House to garner support for the Affordable Care Act, the latest GOP attack on the administration for negotiating backroom deals over health care reform.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have charged that the administration heavily influenced the AARP as it advocated for the health care law, releasing emails and documents indicating that top White House officials asked the group to win over support from key lawmakers, contribute to a political action committee advertising the law and reward supportive lawmakers with positive ads later on.
They say the AARP disregarded its 38 million members by working with the White House, citing polls showing that a majority of seniors opposed Mr. Obama's plan.
"If the [committee] report is accurate, we believe AARP failed its membership by allowing White House officials to direct your organization's grassroots and congressional advocacy efforts," Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John Barrasso of Wyoming and Reps. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, and Phil Gingrey of Georgia wrote in a letter to AARP CEO Barry Rand.
Democrats on the House committee have condemned the efforts to probe lobbying surrounding the health care fight as a partisan waste of time.
Republicans have shifted their attention to the seniors group after releasing a yearlong investigation earlier this month on the administration's negotiations with the nation's top drug companies, where GOP investigators contend top officials threatened Drug firms with steeper taxes if they resisted and promised a better financial deal if they acquiesced.
The probes come as both supporters and opponents of Mr. Obama's health care overhaul plan wait for the Supreme Court to rule on the law's constitutionality in the coming days.
But the materials released by the Republicans in recent weeks also provide a rare insider look at the wheeling and dealing on Capitol Hill as Mr. Obama tried to shepherd his bill through Congress in 2009 and 2010, in the face of near-unanimous GOP opposition.
In their letter to the AARP, the GOP lawmakers asked the group if it tried to influence Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska to vote for the bill on behalf of the White House, whether it gave money to the White House PAC "Healthy Economy Now" and how many lawmakers it thanked through ads for supporting the law.
"These facts suggest a clear conflict of interest on the part of AARP and make us question the justification your organization used to support the president's law," they wrote.
Dear Mr. Rand,
We write to express the concerns of our constituents regarding recent reports that AARP helped fund and participated in political activities at the behest of the White House during consideration of President Obama’s health care law.
As detailed in a report released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month, the White House directed AARP efforts during consideration of the law including:
The report also highlights AARP efforts to coordinate advocacy with the White House including:
These facts suggest a clear conflict of interest on the part of AARP and make us question the justification your organization used to support the President’s law, especially in light of numerous public polls conducted before and after passage highlighting senior opposition.
A Gallup poll published on July 31, 2009 – seven days after AARP privately communicated senior opposition to the White House – found that “Seniors are the least likely of all age groups in the U.S. to say that healthcare reform will benefit their personal healthcare situation” by a margin of 3 to 1. A subsequent Gallop poll released on September 24, 2009 found that “those 65 and older are opposed by a 10-point margin.” Senior opposition to the bill remained consistent once the bill became law. A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found a majority of seniors still opposed to the law for 11 consecutive months after it was signed into law.
Nothing may summarize senior’s thoughts about the law or AARP’s actions better than the words of a former member as detailed in the Energy and Commerce Committee report: “When I joined AARP, I did not do so as a ‘political organization’ and I do not want your views being represented as MY VIEWS. It disturbed me to hear President Obama state in his public address that AARP is behind his ‘Health Care Reform Bill.’ With the media repeating this, some may take it for granted that if AARP is for it, then it must be good. Please clarify that you do not speak for all members, and refrain from being a political organization that makes telephone calls soliciting support for your decision.”
If the Energy and Commerce report is accurate, we believe AARP failed its membership by allowing White House officials to direct your organizations grass-roots and congressional advocacy efforts. Further, we believe that AARP may have misled the American public about seniors’ support of the President’s legislation, substituting its judgment for that of its members. A report by House Ways and Means Committee members found the law “could result in a windfall for AARP that exceeds over $1 billion during the next 10 years.”
Therefore, we believe you owe seniors answers to the following questions:
We look forward to your response.
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