Aired Tuesday June 15th, 2010 at 9:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
On March 23, 2010, after an uncertain year of debate, negotiation and backlash, President Barack Obama signed the healthcare reform bill that he had promised more than a year before. But at what cost to his popularity and to the ideals of bipartisanship and open government that he'd campaigned on? Frontline takes viewers behind the headlines to reveal the political maneuvering of President Obama's effort to remake the American health care system and transform the way Washington works. KUED presents Frontline "Obama's Deal" airing Tuesday, June 15 at 9:00 p.m.
Through interviews with administration officials, senators and Washington lobbyists, "Obama's Deal" reveals the dramatic details of how an idealistic president pursued the healthcare fight despite the warnings of many of his closest advisers, and how he ended up making deals with many of the powerful special interests he had campaigned against.
"The stakes couldn't be much higher," says former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle "We're talking about almost 20 percent of our gross domestic product today, $2.5 trillion. Literally tens, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on lobbying. Every special interest has their oar in the water."
To navigate the process of healthcare reform, the White House encouraged the Senate Finance Committee head, Democrat Max Baucus(D-Montana), who happened to be one of the Senate's top recipients of special interest money from the healthcare industry, to quietly negotiate deals with the insurance lobby, drug companies and other special interest groups, despite promises to run a different kind of White House. "The president said that having people at the table is better than having them throw stuff at the table," says White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
But the deals were often controversial. Frontline investigates how, near the start of the healthcare reform process, Baucus and the White House negotiated a secret $80 billion deal with Billy Tauzin, the former Louisiana congressman who had become the pharmaceutical industry's top lobbyist.
"The process was messy, and so it turned people off," says communications director Pfeiffer. "It ended up being behind closed doors. It was filled with partisan wrangling, people yelling at each other across the table. We ended up having a process that represented a lot of what the American people hated about Washington."
The pact with Tauzin was only the beginning of a series of deals designed to win over potential opponents. The Obama administration argued the deals were necessary to secure healthcare reform. The most notorious agreement, known as the "Cornhusker Kickback," was concluded only days before a vote on the healthcare bill in the Senate. In exchange for the support of Sen. Ben Nelson from Nebraska, the White House and Senate agreed to spend $100 million to benefit Nebraska.
"There is a realism that it has come with a cost," veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz observes. "We don't know what's going to happen in 2012. But there's no question that this healthcare battle has put [Obama's] party at risk. And how they deal with that is the next chapter."
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