Doctors change their stripes

As the fight over patients rights heats up, a new report shows doctors giving more money to Dems. Plus: Daschle shelves Rove stock investigation, but online, the partisan war rages on.

Published June 18, 2001 4:30PM (EDT)

Anger management Too often in our little world of Red vs. Blue we emphasize platitudes over patronage, bombast over bankrolls. But if we follow the old adage and follow the money, it is clear that there are changes afoot among those who sponsor both the Red and the Blue.

The latest example comes courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics and its tracking of the giving patterns of the American Medical Association. The CRP's latest Money in Politics report states that the AMA has given more than $15 million to federal parties and candidates in the last 10 years, "with more than two-thirds of that money going to Republicans. In fact, the AMA, as late as the 1997-98 election cycle, gave an average 70 cents out of every dollar it contributed to the GOP.

But when Congress started focusing on medical reform, the AMA began to change its stripes from Red to Blue. "The AMA supports legislation that would allow patients to take their health plans to court should they not get the care they need, a policy move strongly opposed by many Republicans and supported by most Democrats. That difference of opinion was very much reflected in the AMA's giving during 1999-2000 when the group virtually split its $2.1 million in campaign contributions between Democrats and Republicans," CRP's Holly Bailey writes.

"These days, the financial breach between the AMA and Republicans only seems to be widening, according to preliminary numbers for the 2002 election cycle. The AMA's political action committee reported roughly $150,000 in contributions to federal parties and candidates between January and April of this year, with more than two-thirds of that money going to Democrats."

Perhaps that helps explain why new Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle put the patients bill of rights bill at the top of the new Senate's agenda. As the fight over the legislation continues to heat up, a handful of Republicans have signed up with the Democratic proposal, including Georgia Rep. Charlie Norwood and Sen. John McCain. (We know. McCain bucks the White House. Whoda thunk it?)

The fight has reignited a running feud almost as old as the battle of Red vs. Blue itself -- trial lawyers vs. insurance companies. Take this socialist conspiracy theory rant from a Free Republic poster:

"The 'patient's bill of rights' is one of the most popular, and dangerous, pieces of legislation being currently peddled by Democrats. In a nutshell, it allows greedy trial lawyers, the Democratic Party's top benefactors, to sue insurance companies for unlimited non-economic damages. And despite the fact that the 'patient's bill of rights' is a federal bill, it would allow trial lawyers to sue in state and local courts, which are notoriously more sympathetic to plaintiffs than federal courts. Needless to say, this bill is a trial lawyer's paradise. If Bush signs this bill into law, it will unleash a tidal wave of frivolous lawsuits. As a consequence, insurance premiums will skyrocket, and health coverage will be less affordable. As I have warned elsewhere, this is precisely the effect the Democrats want. If premiums become too expensive, they can once again make the case for socialized medicine. This would constitute a massive expansion of the welfare state and would create unprecedented dependency on government. The Democrats would then argue ad nauseam that if people elect Republicans, they'll actually make people pay for their own health insurance. Conservative groups must mobilize to defeat this bill."

But one poster in the thread disagrees. Whether it's evidence of the issue actually being a divisive one among Republicans or simply a case of liberal intrusion in a Free Republic thread was unclear as of press time. "Way to go Charlie. You are indeed right and on this issue Bush and Frist are wrong," writes a poster using the handle "kattracks." "If only had Bush only listened to experienced counsel rather than HMO shills then some actual good may have been done."

Big buzz

Citing his own efforts to "change the tone," Daschle said this weekend there would be no investigation of President Bush's senior strategist, Karl Rove. Rove came under fire last week when it was revealed that he played a role in a meeting between administration officials and Intel while Rove held more than $100,000 worth of Intel stock.

House Democrats, led by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., wanted an investigation, but Daschle said on Fox News Sunday he "did not see one" in the future. "We're not going to engage in payback. There's plenty of temptation to do that, but we're not going to do that," Daschle said. "Our function of oversight responsibility is one we respect, but we're not going to get into vendettas, we're not going to go after individuals and engage in some of the practices of some of our colleagues."

But folks at Smirking wanted blood.

"This is all very well and good -- high road and all that; however, when a high government official is involved with an obvious conflict of interest, it is required that the matter be investigated. This isn't payback. This is looking into what may very well be a criminal act. If this high minded (in)action by the new Senate majority continues, the administration has just received a gold plated authorization to rob the store," writes one poster.

Folks at were unimpressed.

"The only reason Daschle and the Dems would put up this High-minded front is because there is nothing to investigate. Rove had checked with the appropriate authorities and been told to hold up until they notified him. When discussions began that might have had to do with his stock, he referred those involved to others and stayed out of the discussions. Daschle thinks he can grin down a bear, but he mistakes this mother," writes one Lucianne poster.

Fellow Lucianner "Leroy the Lawyer" opines: "Not only is there nothing to investigate, but the democRATS no longer have control over the Justice Department. That scaires the sh!t out of them."

The Lucianne thread makes clear that this alleged cease-fire declaration is being interpreted as another salvo in the ongoing partisan wars.

"Dash-hole shall be revealed, never fear. I was somewhat disappointed (for selfish political reasons) to hear him call the dogs off this one; this would've been a great thing from a public relations standpoint. But never fear -- there's lots more opportunities for these clowns to hog TV face time spewing nonsense and showing their true faces to America. Just thinking about Holy Joe Lie-berman grilling the 'evil oil executives' on tv makes me chuckle ..."

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By Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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