Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney accused former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of having lobbied in favor of Medicare Part D, the federal program that provides drugs for senior citizens, during Monday night's Republican debate in Tampa, Florida. Romney said other congressmen said they were lobbied by Gingrich at the time.
The exchange between the two candidates included the following statements:
"You have congressmen who say that you came and lobbied them with regards to Medicare Part D." -- Romney
"I didn't lobby them." -- Gingrich
"It is not correct to describe public citizenship, having public advocacy as lobbying. Every citizen has the right to do that." -- Gingrich
"If you're getting paid by health companies, if your entities are getting paid by health companies that could benefit from a piece of legislation and you then meet with Republican congressmen and encourage them to support that legislation, you can call it whatever you'd like. I call it influence peddling. It's not right." -- Romney
The facts: Romney was likely referring to a number of media reports in which at least three lawmakers spoke of Gingrich's actions to get a yes vote from them on the Medicare legislation. The New York Times also reported last month that the world's largest insulin maker, Novo Nordisk, had hired Gingrich to help "position itself as a thought leader" to raise awareness about diabetes.
Former Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave told CNN last month that Gingrich called her at the height of the 2003 debate urging her to vote for the bill.
"Newt called me to vote yes," said Musgrave, who is now director at the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List.
"He asked for a yes vote on a Medicare prescription drug benefit," she said. "Dick Armey" -- a former House majority leader -- "called me and wanted a no. But I had already made up my mind to vote not to expand an entitlement that we were going to have to pay for down the road."
Musgrave, who is neutral in the presidential race, said she was not sure if Gingrich was technically "lobbying" when he called her, because she did not know if he was working for anyone else at the time.
"All I know is he wanted a yes," Musgrave said.
Musgrave was one of 19 House Republicans who voted against the plan, which passed 220-215.
Two other Republicans who served in Congress at the time, Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, told the Des Moines Register last month that they interpreted Gingrich's actions as lobbying.
"He told us, 'If you can't pass this bill, you don't deserve to govern as Republicans,' " Flake told the paper. "If that's not lobbying, I don't know what is."
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the bill is projected to cost nearly $1 trillion from 2010 through 2020. The price tag for Medicare Part D was added to the nation's deficit.
"It was a huge entitlement" that left the insurance and drug industries as big winners, said Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of health economics at Princeton.
The verdict: Misleading. It is true that at least two lawmakers, Flake and Otter said Gingrich's actions amounted to lobbying, but Gingrich and his spokesman say what he did was not lobbying. Romney did not offer any hard evidence that Gingrich lobbied for any company. Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said the former speaker publicly supported the Medicare proposal at the time and was speaking for himself and not on behalf of any client. Gingrich cited as "terrible" the fact that Medicare did not pay for insulin for diabetics, but did pay for dialysis when their kidneys failed. He said he had always favored a stronger Medicare program, but that that did not mean he was lobbying. Gingrich says he was motivated by his own values and beliefs.