Dear Mr. Berko: In 2008, you referred me to a congressman who solved a problem I had with a stupid bureaucrat at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. It took several phone calls and letters, but two months later, it was fixed. I felt obligated to make annual contributions to his political action committee. We have become friendly and have lunch occasionally. At our most recent lunch, I asked why Congress can’t put a health care bill together. His surprising answer was: “Ask Berko!”
— C.S., no state
Dear C.S.: All members of Congress and their staffs enjoy a platinum-plated “Cadillac” health care plan — which pays generously for everything, including rhinotillexomania, halitosis, alopecia, mythomania and mange. This “let them eat cake” Congress needs a taste of our medicine to understand our despair and distress.
Most politicians are molded from the contents of a colostomy bag. But I’ve known this congressman for decades, and he’s honest as a stone. What he’s reluctant to tell you is that big money and special interest groups with big money always take precedence over the public’s interest. So, what do 535 members of Congress have in common? Wanting to get re-elected!
Most folks don’t know that there are over 9,000 pharmaceutical and biotech companies peddling products to American consumers. All have interests in our health care law. So they contribute hugely to influence how 535 members of Congress vote. They care about what’s best for them.
There are 1.4 million physicians, 61,000 chiropractors, 14,000 podiatrists and 200,000 dentists who have an interest in our health care law. Their sizable contributions to Congress will influence their representatives’ votes. They care about what’s best for them.
It’s hard to believe there are just 35 health insurance companies in the U.S., though many different health plans (estimated at 4,700) under different names are divisions of major insurers. They have an interest in our health care law, not in your health. They spend millions influencing the votes of the 535 members of Congress. They care about what’s best for them.
There are about 6,000 hospitals in the U.S., with over 1 million beds. They have an interest in our health care law. Sizable checks to members of Congress buy the votes they want. They care about what’s best for them.
There are 12,000 lobbyists spending $6 billion on 535 members of Congress (that’s $11.2 million per member), knowing their dollars will influence the outcome of health care legislation. Lobbyists care only about what’s best for their clients.
Finally, there are 1.45 million lawyers, or 27,000 lawyers per member of Congress. Many earn their incomes suing/advising hospitals, drug companies, Medicaid, Medicare and the insurance industry. They contribute massive amounts of money to influence the health care legislation. They care about what’s best for them.
These are the players who are important to Congress. Folks like us can’t compete with their money, power and influence. The golden rule says, “He who has the gold rules.” House and Senate seats are costly, and private-interest groups that have the gold tell members of Congress how to vote.
In 2012, candidates who won House seats received an average of $1.7 million in contributions, while winning Senate candidates received an average of $10.5 million. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts sold her soul that year, sucking in $42 million to win her seat. Running for Congress takes big buckets of bucks. So incumbents must cater to special interest groups and their private agendas if they wish to be re-elected. Like sharks smelling blood, members of Congress smell money. It’s money that buys the votes to keep them in office. And those dollars don’t come from folks like us. So members of Congress learn to be Janus-faced; they excel at walking your walk and talking your talk, and then they follow the money. The common ruck like us doesn’t have the green for $75,000-a-plate dinners or to make meaningful contributions to election campaigns. Members of Congress, beholden to special interest money and challenged by the public’s needs, invariably choose the former. And in the process, they’ve learned to imitate tested empathetic noises, convincing you they’re in Washington only to represent your interests. Congress has segued further into a sad comedy of baboons and buffoons.