Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011 | 2 a.m.
As part of a series on members of Congress and the causes they champion, The New York Times on Tuesday published an article about Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley and her advocacy for health care with the foreboding headline, “A Congresswoman’s Cause Is Often Her Husband’s Gain.”
The newspaper focused on her support of a kidney transplant program at University Medical Center, noting that her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, is a leading kidney specialist whose practice includes a contract with the hospital and a dozen dialysis treatment centers. The article suggested that her advocacy for better treatment is a conflict of interest because her husband’s practice has benefited as a result.
“The intermingling of Ms. Berkley’s public and private life, though, is striking even among her peers on Capitol Hill,” the article states.
It is no secret that Berkley, who is running for the U.S. Senate, is married to a doctor and that she is a strong advocate for quality health care. The Times’ article pointed out that Berkley, along with other members of the congressional delegation, pushed to keep the UMC kidney transplant center open after it ran into problems with federal regulators. Because her husband’s practice has a contract with the hospital, there must be a conflict, right?
Berkley was correct to advocate for UMC. The state had no other transplant center, and as a result of her work, the UMC center is
now improved, and Nevadans don’t have to leave the state for care. The idea that her advocacy on behalf of the good of all Nevadans is some sort of conflict of interest is ridiculous. (The Times didn’t mention that she has opposed tort reform measures pushed by doctors’ groups that would have helped her husband.)
The larger issue is that voters are being asked to accept the premise that it would be unethical for a lawmaker to support legislation that would benefit the public if it would also benefit his or her spouse’s profession.
If that is the case, voters would have to reject every lawmaker with a spouse in the military who supports better armor, increased pay or better benefits for the troops, or any lawmaker whose spouse is a firefighter and advocates for better fire safety regulations that benefit the public. Or, to extend that reasoning, any doctors in Congress who vote on health care policy.
Absent any other evidence of unethical action by Berkley, and we know of none, the voters need to keep their perspective. Her advocacy wasn’t driven for personal gain, it was aimed at helping Nevadans. Berkley has always passionately worked to help Nevadans, first and foremost. That’s not a conflict, that’s good representation.