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Bill Moyers: Washington's Corruption Is Hazardous to Our Health

The revolving door can be deadly.

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Friends of Liz Fowler will say this is harsh — that she was the talented, intelligent protégée of two liberal Democrats — outgoing California Congressman Pete Stark and the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York — who believed in public service as a calling. That she was seriously devoted to crafting a health care reform proposal that would pass. No doubt, but it’s not the point. She’s emblematic of the revolving door culture that inevitably means, when push comes to shove, corporate interests will have the upper hand in the close calls that determine public policy. It’s how insiders fix the rules of the market, no matter which party is in power.

The last time we looked, 34 former staff members of Senator Baucus, whose finance committee has life and death power over the industry’s wish list, were registered lobbyists, more than a third of them working on health care issues in the private sector. And the revolving door spins ever faster after a big election like the one we had last month, as score of officials, elected representatives and their staffs vacate their offices after the ballots are counted. Many of them head for K Street and the highest bidder.

When his administration began, President Obama swore he would get tough. “If you are a lobbyist entering my administration,” he said, “you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years… When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am President. And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration as well.”

Reforms were passed that are supposed to slow down the revolving door, increase transparency and limit the contact ex-officials and officeholders can have with their former colleagues. But those rules and regulations have loopholes big enough for Santa and his sleigh to drive through, reindeer included. The market keeps growing for insiders poised to make a killing when they  leave government to help their new bosses get what they want  from government. That’s the great thing about the revolving door: one good turn deserves another.

  

Bill Moyers is the host of “Moyers & Company,” airing weekly on public television. More at: www.billmoyers.com/

Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos and a senior writer of the new series, Moyers & Company, airing on public television.

 
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