Sunday, November 15, 2009

Silly Mini-Scandal of the Week

So, the Times caught a lobbyist and a bunch of Congressional staffers red-handed: the lobbyist, in this case Genentech, supplied Congressional offices with language to laud Genentech-friendly provisions in the health care bill, which Members of the House subsequently put into the Congressional Record verbatim.

People, of course, are outraged. I'll grant that it's inelegant, and a good House L.A. should rewrite the thing before it goes in the record, but other than, I don't think this is a terrible comment on our representative institutions.

Look: Members of Congress support and oppose all sorts of things. For everything that they support, there's a lobbyist, ready to supply arguments that the Member is doing a Good Thing. A good M.C. (and her staff) should carefully weight the arguments, considering what's best for district, party, and nation, and choose a side. After that, it's time to explain the position, and it is perfectly natural and proper to rely on the proponents of the policy for arguments in favor of it. Indeed, it's fine with me if Members listen to the lobbyists' arguments when trying to make policy choices. Members should, in my view, keep in mind that not every interest is represented on K Street, but most lobbyists carefully cultivate a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness. Obviously, they are giving Members one side of the story, but good lobbyists will make sure that they won't be caught out in lies, because if they do their reputation, and future potential influence, is dead.

So if it's okay for Members to listen to interest groups when deciding policy, why isn't it okay for them to use the arguments supplied by interest groups to defend that policy?

One more thing...Mark Kleiman believes the statements must be proof of something significant:
Another clear inference: The provision must be insanely favorable to Genentech, which is to say designed to cost consumers tons of money.
Perhaps that's true. On the other hand, perhaps the provision is only moderately favorable to Genentech, and the lobbyists have just been very successful in producing objective evidence to show their client that its money isn't being wasted. I have no idea whether the particular policy in question is a good one or a bad one, or important at all, but the "revelation" that a company supported it and that Members who supported it used the company's arguments to sell it doesn't really tell me much of anything.

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