Health sector, AARP target super committee

@CNNMoney November 18, 2011: 5:08 PM ET

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- As the clock is ticking for the super committee to make some $1.2 trillion in cuts, companies and groups are spending more to influence what's on the chopping block.

So far, the health care industry and AARP, the group that lobbies for seniors, are mounting some of the biggest efforts to lobby the so-called super committtee.

However, given what's at stake, television advertising to sway lawmakers on the super committee is pretty paltry compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent during the debate on health care and Wall Street reforms in 2009 and 2010.

Since September, $4.5 million has been spent nationwide on television advertising on the debt plan and the super committee, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

With a Wednesday deadline looming for lawmakers to make debt cuts, more television ads are starting to appear, said Campaign Media Analysis Group President Kenneth Goldstein.

The super committee escape hatch

A lot could be on the chopping block, from agricultural subsidies to educational programs and even parts of Medicare. The defense industry also could take a big hit if lawmakers don't get a deal and across-the-board cuts kick in.

Still, companies aren't waging a big advertising war right now, Goldstein said.

"We're starting to see some more yapping, mostly on the health side," Goldstein added.

AARP has been the biggest spender on TV ads, with expenditures topping $2.8 million since Sept. 1. Other big spenders include the Nebraska Democratic Party ($506,000), which is running ads about the super committee and deficit as part of a hot Senate race there; the conservative group American Crossroads ($210,000); and the American Health Care Association ($116,000), according to CMAG.

TV ads might not show it, but many groups are sending teams of lobbyists to march the halls of Capitol Hill. It's impossible to figure out exactly how much companies and groups are spending to sway the super committee, because lobbying reports don't break out dollars spent on individual issues.

But some 400 companies, unions and trade groups reported lobbying the super committee during the quarter ending Sept. 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That's similar to the number of lobbyists hired during the debate over Wall Street reforms. But health care reform and the first big stimulus spending package in early 2010 attracted even more lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Nearly a third of those lobbying the super committee were hired by health care companies or groups, according to the Center. That includes the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

"This is a big issue for the health sector and we're seeing -- with the number of health groups involved -- an intense willingness to ensure their perspectives are heard," said Michael Beckel, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

After them, ideological groups like AARP, Planned Parenthood and the left-leaning Center for American Progress sent the most lobbyists, according to the Center. Ideological lobbyists comprised 11% of lobbyists chasing the super committee.

Other major lobbyists include the American Farm Bureau, as well as big defense companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. To top of page

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