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Democratic Budget Obstructionism Is Brought to You by Big Oil and Big Pharma

The Democrats threatening to help Republicans halt a budget package have taken in millions from Big Pharma and fossil fuel industries worried about losing profits if the budget passes.

Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer speaking during a news conference outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, 2021. (Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The small group of conservative Democratic lawmakers that has been threatening to help Republicans halt Democrats’ budget package have raked in more than $3 million from donors in the pharmaceutical and fossil fuel industries that could see reduced profits if the plan passes.

As the House reconvenes today to tackle the budget reconciliation process, nine Democrat legislators have been promising to kill their party’s $3.5 trillion budget bill until Congress first passes a separate, smaller infrastructure spending measure, which has garnered some Republican support and which some environmental advocates say would exacerbate the climate crisis.

“We will vote against a budget resolution if the infrastructure package isn’t brought up first,” Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer told the Washington Post this weekend, though the American Prospect reported on Sunday that “several” of the legislators now indicated they could back down.

In the narrowly divided House, obstructionism from these conservative Democrats could decouple the infrastructure and budget measures from one another. Many believe that would kill the latter by letting conservative Democrats in the Senate such as Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) get the infrastructure bill they want without having to provide the votes necessary to enact the much larger and more progressive budget measure.

“If we were to pass the bipartisan [infrastructure] bill first, then we lose leverage,” Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY) told the Wall Street Journal.

Along with Gottheimer, the eight other Democrats who have threatened to obstruct the budget bill are Carolyn Bourdeaux (GA), Ed Case (HI), Jim Costa (CA), Henry Cuellar (TX), Jared Golden (ME), Vicente Gonzalez (TX), Kurt Schrader (OR), and Filemon Vela (TX). The US Chamber of Commerce — Washington’s most powerful corporate lobby group — has been airing digital ads thanking the nine Democrats for their maneuvers.

Eight of the nine Democrats represent congressional districts won by President Joe Biden, who supports the reconciliation package.

Big Pharma’s Big Allies

The reconciliation bill is still being negotiated, and many Democratic lawmakers — including those in key swing districts — are pushing for it to include long-promised legislation to allow Medicare to use its enormous purchasing power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs. The pharmaceutical industry has aggressively lobbied against the initiative, which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated would save Medicare $345 billion in medicine costs.

The nine House Democrats threatening to derail the reconciliation bill have raked in nearly $1.2 million from donors in the pharmaceutical and health products industries, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.

Among them are two of the Democratic Party’s top recipients of health care industry money: Gottheimer ($228,186) and Schrader ($614,830). Schrader’s third biggest career donor is Pfizer’s political action committee, and his former chief of staff is now a registered lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association, the pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group.

Both Gottheimer and Schrader signed a letter earlier this year slamming Democratic leaders’ legislation to lower prescription drug prices.

Eight out of the nine Democrats threatening to kill the budget bill also declined to sponsor Democrats’ standalone legislation to let Medicare negotiate lower drug prices.

In the Senate, Sinema’s renewed threat to vote down a final reconciliation bill came after she received $519,000 from donors in the pharmaceutical and health products industries.

Threats to Fossil Fuel Donors

Similarly, while many environmental groups and experts say the infrastructure bill could boost the fossil fuel industry and make the climate crisis worse, the more ambitious reconciliation budget legislation is being billed as the country’s most far-reaching attempt to transition away from fossil fuels and combat the climate emergency.

Senate Democrats’ report explaining the bill says it includes instructions to create a “methane polluter fee to reduce carbon emissions” and a “carbon polluter import fee” — both of which could hit oil and gas companies.

Democratic leaders are also considering using the reconciliation bill to pass a measure that could force oil and gas companies to pay $500 billion in damages for past carbon pollution.

The nine Democrats threatening to help the GOP kill the reconciliation bill have vacuumed in nearly $2.5 million from donors in the oil and gas industry.

The group of legislators includes some of the party’s biggest recipients of fossil fuel cash, such as Cuellar ($1 million) and Gonzalez ($242,006) in Texas, Costa ($637,979) in California, and Schrader ($279,000) in Oregon.

This summer, massive forest fires have ravaged Costa and Schrader’s West Coast states and led to poor air quality in Cuellar and Gonzalez’s home state of Texascataclysms that experts say have been exacerbated by climate change.