Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

How Rahm Could Become a Campaign Issue

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Traditionally, a mayor of Chicago doesn’t become an issue in a presidential campaign until after it is over and all the votes have been stolen. But Rahm Emanuel is no ordinary mayor of Chicago. He is unique, perhaps, among all mayors in American history, in that he was part of an administration whose work is on trial in this election.

    While Emanuel himself is unlikely to become a campaign issue, the policies he advocated inside the White House will. At the top of that list is health care reform, which was so controversial it led to the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010. A CBS News/New York Times poll found that 48 percent of Americans disapproved of Obama’s health care plan, compared to 34 percent who approve, with 18 percent undecided.

    Emanuel’s role in shaping Obamacare came up in a recent New York Times story on the administration’s negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry. According to the article, which is based on White House e-mails obtained by House Republicans, the White House and pharmaceutical lobbyists worked together to prevent the importation of inexpensive foreign drugs. In exchange, pharmaceutical manufacturers agreed to provide $80 billion in expanded coverage. Obama had campaigned against Big Pharma, but thought the trade-off was necessary to win the industry’s support.

    The e-mails document tumultuous negotiations, at certain times transactional, at others prickly. Each side suspected the other of operating in bad faith. Led by Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff at the time, and Jim Messina, his deputy, the White House appeared deeply involved, and not averse to pressure tactics.
    In May, the White House was upset industry had not signed on to a joint statement. One industry official urged colleagues to sign: “Rahm is already furious. The ire will be turned on us.” By June, tension flared again. “Barack Obama is going to announce in his Saturday radio address support for rebating all of D unless we come to a deal,” wrote Bryant Hall, a PhRMA lobbyist, referring to a Medicare Part D change that would cost the industry.
    A public confrontation was averted and an agreement announced, negotiated down to $80 billion from $100 billion. “We got a good deal,” Mr. Hall wrote.
    The White House thought it did, too, and defended it against Democrats in Congress. “WH is working on some very explicit language on importation to kill it in health care reform,” Mr. Hall wrote in September.

    Emanuel told author Jonathan Alter that he had “begged” Obama not to pursue health care reform, correctly anticipating that it would lead to the loss of the Congressional majority he built in 2006. But his involvement in the negotiations will allow Republicans to criticize not only the plan, but the compromises the White House made to pass it. 

    Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!