HILLARY'S TURN. ...

HILLARY'S TURN. I can't be the only one discomfited by the news that Hillary Clinton is second only to the loathsome Rick Santorum on financial donations from the health services industry. The very same insurance and pharmaceutical companies Clinton once accused of "price gouging" and "unconscionable profiteering" have funneled more than $150,000 into her coffers -- funny how that works. As a whole, the health sector gave her just under $900,000 in 2005-06, no small sum.

So why the turnaround? A couple possibilities:

1) The health industry fully expects that Clinton will be President in 2008 and is trying to buy their influence early. That's a possible explanation, but it doesn't explain why no other presidential contender is even in the Top 10. If the sector were trying to cover the �08 field, you'd expect George Allen or John McCain to have benefited from their largesse.

2) Clinton is willing to deal. Weirdly, her homepage lacks a "Medicare" section, and so far as I know, all her proposed legislation has been industry friendly. That's not to say it hasn't been good, but she's hung back on any issue where the right path would enrage the health industry (say, Medicare drug negotiation). There's been some innovative legislation coming from her camp -- see this Slate piece I wrote on her malpractice bill -- but nothing particularly controversial.

3) It's an investment for the future. Clinton will have a strong voice in whatever major health legislation comes out of the Democratic Party -- if she opposes some anti-industry bill, it'll die on the vine. If she's intent on ensuring that future legislation retains the involvement and power of the current stakeholders, the wise money is that coming bills will do just that.

In any case, it's a worrying sign that her past experience with health reform was such a trauma that she'll be unable to step past the incremental and challenge the same players who so soundly defeated her the last time. It's not a promise of that, of course, but it's hard to believe the health industry is offering up these sorts of sums to someone they think will come for their heads.

--Ezra Klein

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