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Deluge of Lobbying to Hit Senate

As the Senate launches into an expected marathon health care debate this month, interest groups are working furiously to shape — or spike — the current legislation. From deep inside Metro stations to aboveground in Capitol Hill offices, lawmakers and their staffs will be deluged with messages from health care stakeholders.

The union-backed coalition Health Care for America Now, which supports Democratic proposals, has spent weeks assembling memos for “friendly— Senate offices to incorporate into their health care messaging.

“We’re going to be engaged in the Senate process,— said Richard Kirsch, HCAN’s national campaign manager. “We’ve put together a lot of fact sheets and stories to illustrate the problems.—

The left-of-center think tank Third Way also has memos at the ready for this week’s debate. As the Senate debates historic overhauls to the nation’s health care infrastructure, Third Way will attempt to fatten Democratic messaging intended for the overwhelming majority of the population that already has health insurance.

“For years, the debate has been about the 1 in 7 who does not [have health insurance] — we need to win over the 6 out of 7 who have it,— Third Way Vice President for Policy Jim Kessler said Monday. “Our documents are aimed at persuading the middle class that there’s something in it for them. We believe that is the underlying task that Democrats must focus on in this debate.—

Abortion-rights supporters are expected to descend on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a day of lobbying to keep restrictive abortion language out of the final health care legislation. A coalition of progressive groups that joined together after the House voted to insert abortion coverage restrictions in that chamber’s bill has organized a “DC Lobby Day— that will include visits to lawmakers as well as a noon rally in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Possible speakers include Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards. Planned Parenthood spokesman Tait Sye said the coalition was expecting about 500 abortion-rights supporters from around the country to participate in the lobbying event. Sye said a busload of about 40 supporters was coming from Wisconsin, with others traveling from California and North Dakota.

The Senate health care legislation does not include language that is as restrictive regarding abortion coverage as the House bill. Nevertheless, abortion-rights supporters are worried that a number of socially conservative Democrats may offer amendments that would toughen the restrictions.

Meanwhile, the high-dollar ad wars will continue this week, with the Conservatives for Patients’ Rights announcing Monday the start of a $250,000 ad buy that targets 14 Senators in 10 states. The spots ask constituents to call their Senators and urge them to vote “no— on legislation that includes a public insurance option.

The ads will be airing nationally on CNN and Fox News and will run through Dec. 6. The spots focus largely on Democrats, such as Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, but also include moderate GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine).

The conservative group was spearheaded and heavily funded by Richard Scott, a hospital executive who founded Columbia Hospital Corp. in 1987. Scott was later forced out of Columbia when the company was being investigated for Medicaid and Medicare fraud. The company eventually paid a $1.7 billion fine, although Scott was never charged of any wrongdoing.

TV isn’t the only medium that interest groups are tapping.

The American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, is hoping to catch the attention of Senate staffers on their way to work by buying ad space in the Metro stop at Union Station. The spots claim that 98,000 people die every year from preventable medical errors. The ads argue that medical liability reform, embraced by conservatives as one of the best ways to bring down medical costs, won’t fix the health care problem.

The ads, which will appear in 30 locations in the station, will highlight stories of people who have been injured by medical negligence.

“We bought all the Union Station space since that’s the route many Senate staffers take to work,— AAJ spokesman Ray De Lorenzi said.

The ads will go up starting today and will run through this month. Metro is charging the group $100,000 to place the ads all over the heavily traveled station.

Two business coalitions, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are also continuing ad campaigns aimed at killing the health care legislation now being considered in Congress.

The ads, sponsored by the Employers for a Healthy Economy and Start Over, are running on national cable and in nine states. The spots claim that the health care legislation is costly and will increase the debt.

Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff said the business group has not planned any special events on Capitol Hill this week but said the group’s lobbying team would be “involved in meetings and talking to folks.—

The insurance industry, another player with deep pockets in the health care debate, is continuing its assault on the Senate health care bill. America’s Health Insurance Plans on Monday issued a press release citing a new Congressional Budget Office analysis as evidence that the Senate plan would increase the cost of premiums for millions of Americans.

While the CBO report did conclude that premiums would rise in the individual market, it also said consumers would get better coverage than they do now. Additionally, it said most people would have their premium payments reduced by federal subsidies.

Americans United for Change, which supports Democratic proposals, is continuing to encourage its membership to overwhelm the Senate switchboard with telephone calls. Spokesman Jeremy Funk said the grass-roots strategy intends to provide Senate Democrats with “constant reassurance that they have the political high ground.—

A spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which is pushing lawmakers to strengthen identity verification requirements in health care legislation, said the Senate debate kicking off this week is shifting his group’s focus to the Hill.

“It’s going to be rapid response,— FAIR spokesman Ira Mehlman said.

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