‘Not business as usual’: Health lobbyists gear up for Bernie Sanders

Lobbyists also fear they will struggle to gain traction on any push to make changes to a drug rebate program involving drug companies and hospitals or revisit the associations’ health plans after a Trump-era rule around them is rescinded. .

“This will not be business as usual for K Street. It will be harder for companies to come in and make a case,” said Michaeleen Crowell, a lobbyist at lobbying and public affairs firm S-3 Group who was Sanders’ chief of staff for more than five years. “Culture in the office It’s one where lobbyists are distrusted and are more likely to downplay what they hear directly from companies.”

POLITICO spoke to more than a dozen lobbyists and lawyers about having Sanders at the helm of the HELP committee, some of whom have been granted anonymity to speak about the senator’s dynamic with K Street.

Several lobbyists representing health insurers, drug companies, providers and health care systems have told POLITICO they will have to “fire” their defense to get their messages across – lobbying other lawmakers on the committee and getting on the ears of progressive and leftist politicians -leaning organisations.

“There are ways to passively get things on his radar if you know him well enough, if you know who’s listening or what he’s reading,” Crowell said.

Sanders’ office declined to answer POLITICO’s questions, including questions about his relationship with lobbyists.

Lobbyists said another strategy might work to insert favorable provisions into larger bills, lean on the panel’s House counterpart, the Energy and Commerce Committee, or go to Sen. Patti Murray (D-Wash.), who resigns as HELP committee chair to head the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“It’s not the status quo…we’re going to have to get creative with patient groups to get him to listen,” said a lobbyist with healthcare system, health insurance and pharmaceutical clients who have been granted anonymity to speak freely . “If I’m being completely honest, we’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do.”

Sanders talked about working to increase access to care, reduce drug costs, expand the healthcare workforce and raise wages, and possibly reach the entire ward. Sanders is also expected to push the committee’s jurisdictional limits, potentially addressing issues such as the health impacts of climate change.

K Street will likely be watching Sanders as often collaborates with the commission’s incoming ranking member, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), as the two have a history of working across the aisle. While some lobbyists have proposed surprise drug pricing and billing policies as a way for them to strike a deal, it’s not entirely clear whether they’ll end up on the same page.

“There’s a good chance the committee will become a one-legged duck, swimming in circles,” said a Republican lobbyist and former HELP committee staffer who granted anonymity to speak freely.

But if the two end up aligning on some issues, it could be a liability for some industry clients on K Street.

Jeff Forbes, co-founder of lobbying and public affairs firm Forbes Tate, said Sanders has a history of bipartisanship, particularly as he chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and would work to get things done: ” the question will be what, and at whose expense?

“Should corporate America worry? Of course they do,” she added. “Between a populist Republican like Cassidy and a leftist president like Sanders, they’re going to have a lot of anti-corporate areas of mutual interest.”

With the majority in the Senate comes the power to subpoena, and it is almost certain that health care executives will be called to testify before the committee: a reputational risk for companies.

“Quote authority is certainly something that gets people’s attention,” said Rafi Prober, co-head of congressional investigative practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

And the conditions are ripe for the HELP Committee to strengthen the hearing schedule: The panel has only a few items to do in the next session — reauthorize both pandemic-preparedness legislation known as PAHPA and a consumer tax bill from drugs for animals — and Democratic priorities aren’t expected to move, given the GOP-controlled House. This gives Sanders the runway to delve into any issue he desires.

Most senior members of Congress have relationships with K Street because lobbyists had worked for them — or closely with them — while serving as Capitol Hill aides, donated to their campaigns, or otherwise approached their staff .

Sanders, meanwhile, doesn’t rub shoulders with executives and lobbyists at fundraisers and doesn’t have a “kitchen cabinet” of donor-advisers with whom he talks about policy, Crowell and others said. He has vowed to give up all political action committee money, even those run by other Senators and Congressmen, for his Senate campaigns.

Additionally, most of his staff have a mix of experience working for him, progressive campaigns, and nonprofits, and share a dislike of downtown corporate lobbyists.

“The prospects for a Sanders-led HELP committee are refreshing and exciting,” said Craig Holman, a Public Citizen lobbyist who covers ethics issues and money politics.

“The president will give everyone his due, including lobbyists who represent the public interest, without being swayed by campaign money,” he said. “Sanders’ new leadership position will help build some equity between his influence haves and have-nots, of which Public Citizen and other nonprofits qualify roughly as the latter.”

But a Democratic lobbyist arguing before the HELP committee, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the dynamic, said Sanders staffers rarely attend people’s meetings.

“It’s hard to find a lobbyist [who] he was very successful working with his staff. If the committee wants to be taken seriously on some very important issues, it will need to be more open to talking to stakeholders, even those [they] I don’t like it,” he said.

Not all lobbyists are so low on their prospects. Michael Strazzella, the federal government relations practice leader at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, said he was optimistic about working with Sanders and his staff.

“He can be educated just like any other senator,” Strazzella said. “Influence is a strong word, to be honest, but I believe he is open to continuing education and understands the impact of new policies. … I don’t think it’s necessarily determined in his way about everything.

Aside from its current staff, much of the dynamic with K Street will hinge on who it brings to work on the committee, several lobbyists have told POLITICO.

Some are hoping it will be a departure from his traditional hiring patterns, but a lobbyist who has connections with Sanders’ healthcare staff said he wants them to stick around.

“I just hope they stay because at least we know who we’re going to be working with next year and can have conversations with them,” said the lobbyist, who has been granted anonymity to speak about the relationship, in an email. “I worry about the staff changing some and not knowing any of the… incoming players and their approach to interacting with the centre.”

Ben Leonard contributed to this report.

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