Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Can Rep. Bill Thomas Retire Fast Enough?

Dear President Bush,

The House Ethics Committee passed on investigating Rep. Tom DeLay as he would soon be retiring. His long time ally, Bill Thomas may wish to undertake a similar strategy. While no lobbyists or staffers have turned on Bill to date, sufficient information exists to cause one to question his ethics.

Rep. Thomas took over $350,000 in free travel between 2000 and 2005 courtesy of American corporations and their trade associations. He took over 200 privately funded trips and made the top 10 most expensive list for one junket to Beaver Creek, Colorado. His tab of $27,962 was picked up by the American Enterprise Institute and Vail Valley Foundation. If he just ordered another bottle of wine, the tab might have surpassed Tom DeLay’s $28,000 soiree to South Korea courtesy of the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council.

My concern was that $30,000 in donations from for-profit hospital groups in 2004 turned into a summer 2005 hearing on the unfair advantage non profit community hospitals have as they don’t pay taxes. On the surface it seems a transparent purchase of a hearing. Rep. Thomas played the role of a for-profit hospital shill in promoting their long standing beef against the non profit sector.

Bill is a longtime attendee and speaker at the annual Federation of American Hospitals meeting. There he first met Tom Scully, the President of the for-profit hospital alliance. They would work together later on the new Medicare Prescription Drug Program as Tom shifted to public service work, heading up Medicare and Medicaid. After Tom got in trouble for threatening a subordinate to not share their higher cost estimates with members of Congress, his friend Bill rushed to his aid. Rep. Thomas grilled that pesky Mr. Foster in another hearing.

It turns out my concerns about influence buying may be overstated. From the looks of the travel bills, it might take a lot more than $30,000 to buy Mr. Thomas. What else did the for-profit hospitals do for Bill that did not make the disclosure sheets? Any insider tips on when to buy or sell HCA stock? Did Bill get some gratis healthcare services at a for-profit hospital? Surely something else must have been going on as the powerful chairman has rich tastes.

Over $350,000 in free travel, over 200 trips, and a top 10 most expensive junket…who says America doesn’t have the best democracy money can buy?

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