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Drug industry plans $150 million in TV ads to push health care overhaul

WASHINGTON — The drug industry has authorized its lobbyists to spend as much as $150 million on TV commercials supporting President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, beginning over the August congressional recess, people briefed on the plans said Saturday.

The unusually large scale of the industry's commitment to the cause helps explain some of a contentious back-and-forth in recent days over a deal that the White House struck with the industry in June to secure its support. The terms of the deal were not fully disclosed. Both sides had announced that the drug industry would contribute $80 billion over 10 years to the cost of the health care overhaul without spelling out the details.

With House Democrats moving to extract more than that just as the drugmakers finalized their advertising plans, the industry lobbyists pressed the Obama administration for public reassurances that it had agreed to cap the industry's additional costs at $80 billion.

The White House, meanwhile, has struggled to mollify its most pivotal health industry ally without alienating congressional Democrats who want to demand far more of the drugmakers. White House officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Many Democratic lawmakers have railed for years against what they consider the industry's excessive profits.

Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, declined to discuss the specific sums. "Our board has agreed to make a significant investment in support of comprehensive reform," he said.

He said it would include grass roots outreach as well. The drugmakers stand to gain millions of new customers from the expansion of health care coverage.

Also Saturday

President Barack Obama argued in his weekly radio and Internet address that overhauling the health care system is essential to the country's economic well-being. "We must lay a new foundation for future growth and prosperity, and a key pillar of a new foundation is health insurance reform," he said.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa was one of numerous Democratic lawmakers running into resistance to proposals to reform the nation's health care system. "As we have seen in recent days, opponents are pulling out all stops to kill the reform effort. This is a shame," Harkin said.

Drug industry plans $150 million in TV ads to push health care overhaul 08/08/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 8, 2009 10:25pm]
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