The Economic Stimulus Package: A Guide to What Special Interests Want and May Get

When George W. Bush assumed office in the wake of last year's tumultuous presidential race, business interests spanning nearly every industry in the nation thought tax breaks would be a sure thing under the new Republican administration.

But when corporate lobbyists attempted to attach their various wish lists to President Bush's tax cut proposal last spring, the White House shooed them away, promising that another tax bill with its own opportunities would come later.

Today, business interests--the ones who not only paid most of the $3 billion tab for last year's record-breaking elections, but also shelled out millions more this year to lobby in support of Bush's controversial tax cut--are still waiting. But they may not be for much longer.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the House this week is set to take up what could be the most expensive bailout ever: an economic stimulus plan that could cost as much as $100 billion. The legislation, jointly conceived by President Bush and the Congress, includes a series of targeted tax cuts for businesses and individuals aimed at jump-starting the sluggish economy.

Already, the bill has reinvigorated at least one industry: Washington's special interest lobbyists, who view the stimulus plan as an irresistible way to finally achieve some hard-fought goals. And while some groups, including the Tax Relief Coalition (a group assembled last spring by the National Association of Manufacturers and other trade associations to support Bush's individual tax cuts), have urged restraint among their members, many are already bracing for a virtual feeding frenzy. The end result could be an old package filled with long-debated issues -- only this time, it has a new wrapping: the American flag.

Here's a guide to what some interests want, including a breakdown of their soft money, PAC and individual contributions to federal parties and candidates during the 1999-2000 election cycle and for the first half of 2001:

Restaurants & Bars 1999-2000:
$8.2 million, 70 percent to Republicans 2001 so far: $803,313, 76 percent to Republicans

Six years after Congress repealed a tax deduction for the "three-martini" business lunch, the restaurant industry has been tireless in its efforts to restore the credit. The write-off currently is 50 percent of the cost of a business meal, and earlier this year, the National Restaurant Association ($139,646 in 2001; 81 percent to the GOP) simply wanted that deduction increased to 80 percent. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, however, the industry has asked members of Congress for a full deduction of business meals. Already, the industry has lined up at least three notable supporters: Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), John Breaux (D-La.) and Daniel Inouye, (D-Hawaii). But that perk could arrive with something the restaurant industry does not want and has strongly opposed for years: a proposed minimum wage increase.

Computer/Internet Industry 1999-2000:
$39.6 million, 52 percent to Democrats 2001 so far: $4 million, 61 percent to Republicans

For years, the computer industry has been asking Congress to rethink the tax code when it comes to depreciation of computer equipment and software. The industry wants to permit businesses to write off the value of the equipment within two years of its purchase, if not immediately, rather than over the five years that is currently allowed. The industry also wants software to be considered a depreciable asset under the tax code, while Microsoft ($692,585 in 2001; 53 percent to the GOP) simply wants software costs to be written off as a business expense. While Microsoft's proposal hasn't been adopted thus far, the House Ways & Means Committee last week signed off on tax breaks for tech equipment and software purchased after Sept. 11th and continuing for the next three years. Meanwhile, Internet companies, in the continuing battle over the Tauzin/Dingell broadband bill, want any stimulus package to include tax credits to speed construction of high-speed Internet networks across the country.

Lodging/Tourism 1999-2000:
$6.8 million, 56 percent to Republicans 2001 so far: $2.4 million, 90 percent to Republicans

Among the hardest hit in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks has been the nation's lodging and travel industry, including hotels and travel agents. The industry already had been facing a slowdown in business thanks to a jittery economy, and both groups argue that, like the airlines, they deserve a bailout, too. Last week, chief executives from some of the nation's biggest hotel chains--including Loews Hotels chairman Jonathan Tisch (who alone contributed $454,500 in 1999-2000; 99 percent to Dems) and several executives from Marriott International ($725,589 in 2001; all to the GOP)--visited Capitol Hill to appeal for tax credits and low-interest loans, among other things. Travel agents are pressing Congress for more than $4 billion in assistance in the form of loans and tax credits, according to the American Society of Travel Agents ($18,500 in 2001; 62 percent to Republicans).

Transportation 1999-2000:
$55.7 million, 72 percent to Republicans 2001 so far: $8.4 million, 72 percent to Republicans

Though the nation's passenger airlines already asked for and received financial assistance in the wake of Sept. 11, the industry has joined Carnival Corp ($15,050 in 2001; 73 percent to Republicans) and other cruise lines to press for tax credits that would encourage personal travel in the waning months of this year. Tour bus operators have jumped on that bandwagon, too, but like the airlines, they want more. Among other things, the American Bus Association ($46,000 in 2001; 65 percent to Republicans) wants motorcoach operators to be exempted from the federal diesel fuel tax and almost $1 billion for enhanced security. It also wants a delay its members' compliance with the Americans for Disabilities Act. Meanwhile, some car rental agencies, including Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group ($32,400 in 1999-2000; 88 percent to Republicans), are asking lawmakers for at least $1.5 billion in loan guarantees to offset the effects of the terrorist attack on their business.

Beer, Wine & Liquor 1999-2000:
$12.9 million, 60 percent to Republicans 2001 so far: $1.7 million, 65 percent to Republicans

For years, Anheuser-Busch ($249,207 in 2001, 58 percent to Republicans) has been pressing Congress to roll back the federal excise tax on beer. Approved in 1991, the tax adds up to roughly $18 a barrel, according to the company. While beer makers have not yet attempted to attach a provision to the stimulus bill, the president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association ($357,500 in 2001; 73 percent to Republicans) told National Journal last week that if the lobbying over the bill turns into a "pig fest, we want ours."

Misc Business 1999-2000:
$168 million, 61 percent to Republicans 2001 so far: $22 million, 73 percent to Republicans

Until recently, some of Washington's biggest trade associations, including the National Federation of Independent Business ($114,542 in 2001; 96 percent to Republicans) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($49,050 in 2001; 87 percent to Republicans), had gotten nowhere in their attempts to repeal the corporate alternative minimum tax--a rule enacted to make sure companies pay at least something to the government each year, regardless of other tax breaks and deductions. Now, it is the No. 1 item on the list of things President Bush and some members of Congress believe would stimulate economic growth. Nearly every segment of big business supports an AMT repeal, including energy and tobacco companies and manufacturers, of everything from steel and automobiles to clothing. Additionally, business groups are pressing for other breaks, including increased write-offs for companies' capital investments and tax breaks for companies to pay off asbestos claims.

Finance/Insurance/Real Estate 1999-2000:
$297 million, 58 percent to Republicans 2001: $38.6 million, 65 percent to Republicans

Backed by nearly every major company in the nation, the financial sector continues to seek a reduction in the capital gains tax, which is levied against the sale of stocks, bonds and real estate. Despite attempts from many Republicans to attach that provision to the stimulus bill, the House Ways & Means Committee last week didn't include it in its version of the legislation. However, financial companies, aided by General Electric ($429,326 in 2001; 67 percent to Republicans) and other multi-national corporations, did successfully attach at least one hard-fought item: a provision that would defer taxes on income they earn abroad until the money is returned to the US. Insurance companies, meanwhile, have asked Congress for a change in the tax code that would allow them to write off losses by their affiliates against profits--another long-mentioned issue that has gained new life in the wake of Sept. 11.

Construction 1999-2000:
$53.7 million, 68 percent to Republicans 2001 so far: $7.1 million, 72 percent to Republicans Building Trade Unions 1999-2000: $17.5 million, 94 percent to Democrats 2001 so far: $3 million, 86 percent to Democrats Teachers Unions 1999-2000: $6 million, 96 percent to Democrats 2001 so far: $512,235, 91 percent to Democrats

As Congress began debate last week on the economic stimulus plan, the National Education Association ($267,695 in 2001; 84 percent to Democrats) sent more than 150 teachers to Capitol Hill to lobby for more than $20 billion to rebuild and repair school buildings. Unions and construction companies support the idea, too, and have expanded their lobbying efforts to include money for new government buildings.

This article originally appeared on OpenSecrets.org.

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