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Ornaments on Senate healthcare Christmas tree -- boon to pharmaceutical, insurance companies?

December 21, 2009 |  6:17 am

While many Americans were sleeping, at 1:18 this morning, the Senate cleared President Obama's healthcare bill over a procedural hurdle, presaging a Christmas Eve vote. Or, more accurately, Senate Democrats did.

On a strict 60-40 vote, Democrats, joined by Independents Vermont's Bernard Sanders and Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, agreed to send the gift-laden Christmas tree toward passage. Given the need to reconcile with the House version, there's a lot of drama still ahead. And, no doubt, a lot of Americans likely will benefit, including the estimated 30 million Americans not now covered.

Still, early reaction on Wall Street to the healthcare bill -- United Health Group, Aetna and Humana all experienced big stock jumps Friday -- suggests the insurance industry is pleased. Which is not surprising, given the amount of money it invested in defeating certain provisions, like the trigger.

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According to a landmark study by the Tribune and the Center for Responsive Politics, healthcare lobbyists spent $635 million in the last two years, much of it on a revolving door of congressional aides who came back to Capitol Hill to carry the day. In fact, the study found that at least 166 former aides from the nine congressional leadership offices and five committees involved in shaping health overhaul legislation -- along with at least 13 former lawmakers -- registered to represent at least 338 healthcare clients since the beginning of last year.

Industry goodies aren't the only ornaments on the tree. Republicans complained about all the sugar plums attached to the bill -- "the Louisiana Purchase," which secured Democrat Mary Landrieu's vote with an extra $300 billion in Medicaid funds and exemption from Medicaid expansion for Nebraska in exchange for Democrat Ben Nelson's help in crafting anti-abortion language that passed muster with the Democratic Senate.

As the New York Times' Katharine Seelye noted, on Capitol Hill, decorating the Christmas tree is always in season.

-- Johanna Neuman

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