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Lobbyists Target Health Care, Tobacco

Two of Congress' most high-profile agenda items of late demonstrate that the influence of money is alive and well in Washington -- or that lobbyists are still hoping it is.

The largest medical insurers and drug companies are stepping up their lobbying efforts as Congress deliberates the details of a significant overhaul of the nation's health care system. The companies spent 41 percent more on lobbying this year than last year, reports USA Today.

Twenty of the largest insurance and drug companies and their trade groups spent close to $35 million in the first quarter of this year, an increase of more than $10 million from the same period last year, the newspaper said. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which supports some of Congress' proposed changes but opposes the formation of a government-sponsored plan, has spent $6.9 million in 2009 -- an increase of 91 percent from 2008. Pfizer has more than doubled its efforts, bringing its 2009 lobbying expenditures to $6.1 million.

Meanwhile, as an anti-smoking bill passed in Congress moves to the president's desk, McClatchy Newspapers points out that some of the top recipients of campaign contributions from the tobacco industry were among the few Senators who voted against the bill, which passed 79 to 17 on Thursday.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) were among those named. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has received $228,700 from tobacco-related political action committees and individual contributions over the course of his career. The senators say the campaign contributions did not affect their votes, McClatchy reports.

"I voted against the FDA tobacco bill because I'm opposed to the overregulation of an industry that's already highly regulated, from farmer to manufacturer," Chambliss said. "The bill saddles the already overburdened FDA with even more oversight duties, and does nothing to reduce the rate of smoking among Americans — cigarettes already on the shelves will remain on the market."

In spite of the spending spike in areas like health care, overall lobbying expenditures are down for this year, USA Today reported. The potential for misconduct was also highlighted yesterday when the House Ethics Committee announced it is investigating certain members of Congress for inappropriate activity relating to their relationships with the PMA Group, a now-defunct defense industry lobbying firm.

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