WASHINGTON — The drug industry has authorized its lobbyists to spend as much as $150 million on television commercials supporting President Obama’s health care overhaul, beginning over the August Congressional recess, people briefed on the plans said Saturday.
The unusually large scale of the industry’s commitment to the cause helps explain some of a contentious back-and-forth playing out in recent days between the odd-couple allies over a deal that the White House struck with the industry in June to secure its support. The terms of the deal were not fully disclosed. Both sides had announced that the drug industry would contribute $80 billion over 10 years to the cost of the health care overhaul without spelling out the details.
With House Democrats moving to extract more than that just as the drug makers finalized their advertising plans, the industry lobbyists pressed the Obama administration for public reassurances that it had agreed to cap the industry’s additional costs at $80 billion. The White House, meanwhile, has struggled to mollify its most pivotal health industry ally without alienating Congressional Democrats who want to demand far more of the drug makers. White House officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Many Democratic lawmakers have railed for years against what they consider the industry’s excessive profits and pointedly insisted in recent days that they do not feel bound by the White House’s commitments.
Sources briefed on the drug industry’s plans, speaking on condition of anonymity because the details remain confidential, say top officials of the industry’s trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, are scheduled to meet next week to finalize its fall plans. The final budget could be less or more than what was authorized, the sources said.
By comparison, President Obama’s presidential campaign spent about $236 million on television commercials while the campaign of the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona, spent about $126 million. Few expect the opponents of the health care overhaul to muster as much advertising muscle as its backers, including sympathetic business groups, labor unions and ideological allies. The drug makers stand to gain millions of new customers from the expansion of health care coverage.
Ken Johnson, a spokesman for PhRMA, declined to discuss the specific sums. “Our board has agreed to make a significant investment in support of comprehensive reform,” he said. “Our August plan is pretty much in place, but we have not finalized all the details of the fall campaign.” He said it would include grassroots outreach as well. The scale of the drug industry’s plans was first reported Saturday by The Associated Press.
The drug industry has already contributed millions of dollars to advertising campaigns for the health care overhaul through the advocacy groups like Healthy Economies Now and Families USA. It has spent about $1 million on similar advertisements under its own name.
All of the commercials closely echo common Democratic themes about medical care for all, consumer protection and “health insurance reform.” Some supporters of the overhaul have hired public affairs and advertising firms with close ties to the White House and Senate Democrats, including GMMB, which worked on the Obama campaign, and AKPD, which previously included David Axelrod, who is now the president’s top political adviser.