Joe Biden and The DNC Get It Wrong: The Big Insurance Lobby Is Not That Big

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On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden, who is traveling in Eastern Europe, sent out a warning to millions of Barack Obama’s supporters through the Democratic National Committee’s email list.

We’ve got a fight on our hands. Powerful insurance companies are pulling out all the stops to defeat the President’s plan for health reform. They’re spending seven million bucks a week on lobbyists, blanketing the country with deceptive TV ads, and just funded two high-profile “reports” to distort what reform would mean for you.

It read like a pretty standard Democratic fund-raising pitch: Big bad insurance companies are swamping Congress with big dollars, so we need your help. Later in the email, Biden made the ask. “Please contribute today,” he wrote.

The only problem was Biden got one big fact wrong.

It is not true that “powerful insurance companies” have been “spending seven million bucks a week on lobbyists.” In fact, health insurance companies make up a relatively minor part of the total health care industry’s lobbying push, which is dominated by much bigger-spending drug companies.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which does the most authoritative coding of industry spending on lobbying, the insurance industry spent $40.8 million on lobbying in the second quarter of 2009, which works out to $448,653.04 per day. The second quarter spending by just health insurance companies and trade groups was even smaller, at $8.6 million, or $93,966.25 per day. That’s a far cry from $1 million a day that Biden claimed.

It is true, however, that total lobbying by all sectors of the health care industry—drugs, medical devices, insurance, hospitals, doctors—has been running at a clip north of $7 million a week. According to the same bean counters, total second quarter lobbying by the health sector and health insurance was $144 million, or $1,580,276.63 per day. But that’s not what Biden’s fundraising email said.

When asked about the error, Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, sent over a few news clippings pointing to the larger lobbying burn rate for the entire health care industry, including this Washington Post story which found in July that health care industry lobbying was running then at about $1.4 million a day. But that doesn’t excuse the error, a fact Woodhouse admitted. “We used the wrong number here – which was an innocent mistake,” he wrote in an email. “But anyone with access to a TV or the Internet knows that the health insurance industry has pulled out all the stops to preserve the status quo – and their profits.”

Fund-raising pitches such as this one may be signed by Biden, but they are traditionally written over at the DNC. The factual blunder is particularly glaring for the White House and the Democratic Party, given their focus in recent weeks on “calling out” the factual errors of President Obama’s opponents with big “reality check” blog posts.

They got bit by their own stinger–or whatever didactic adage you might choose to invoke. Perhaps,”People who live in glass houses should not throw stones”? Or maybe, “Live by the sword, die by the sword”? Or maybe the more sympathetic, “Nobody is perfect”?