The Corporate Welfare Congress
AUSTIN, Texas -- As Lily Tomlin observed, no matter how cynical you get, it's impossible to keep it up. But the Congress of the United States is doing its best to keep us up to snuff in this department, and we would particularly like to thank all of them, and the Bush White House as well, for keeping us on our misanthropic toes.
Gee, it seemed like such a good idea -- a plan to help senior citizens with their outrageous drug bills. It's bad enough the drug companies are ripping off the rest of us, but seniors on fixed incomes are just brought to their knees by these unconscionable prices. They've been begging for help for years, and for years the pols have been promising to deliver. And now they will. Oops. Bad news.
According to a report by the co-directors of Boston University's School of Public Health titled, "New Medicare RX Benefit Means Big Profits for Drug Companies," we have once more failed to sufficiently overestimate what special interest money can do to legislation written by our elected representatives. According to the report, "An estimated 61.1 percent of the Medicare dollars that will be spent to buy more prescriptions will remain in the hands of drug makers as added profits."
Isn't that nice? Sixty-one percent of what the plan costs will be additional profit for drug companies. Just what we had in mind. Only our fully-bought-and-paid-for politicians (in Texas, we rather delicately refer to them as "whored out') could have taken a plan to help seniors and turned it into a plan to help drug companies already making obscene profits. Their estimated increased profits under this bill are $139 billion over eight years.
Of course, that's not all that's wrong with the bill. It has a peculiar doughnut provision that eliminates coverage for total out-of-pocket drug costs between $2,200 and $5,000. The legislation also prohibits Medicare from "interfering" to lower drug prices by negotiating or implementing a price structure, or ceiling. Isn't that special? Several governors are considering buying their drugs in Canada, which could save them hundreds of millions of Medicare dollars. But when the House put such a provision in the bill this summer, the White House promptly threatened to veto the entire bill.
If you think that's a lovely bunch of coconuts, wait'll you see the energy bill! Holy pig, what a staggering piece of pork this is -- what a beauty, what a lulu, what a special-interest bonanza. The corporate giveaways in this thing are just staggering. We're not just talking tax breaks here; there are billions and billions in actual giveaways of taxpayer money to these immensely profitable -- and immensely polluting -- industries.
Oil and gas, which paid an effective tax rate of 12.5 percent in the late 1990s (would you like that rate?) already have gotten $10 billion in tax breaks from this administration over the next five years. Now they get another $10 billion from the energy bill. Thank goodness Santa didn't forget the coal industry, or for that matter, the singularly repulsive coalbed methane industry, or the absolutely amazing alchemical synfuel industry, which gets $1 billion in tax credits each year for transforming coal into coal. (You really must read up on that one.)
Here's one I especially like -- a $2.5 billion tax break for ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and ChevronTexaco to write off the cost of exploring for oil on our public lands and off our coasts.
Oh, this bill is so cool. Research subsidies, development subsidies, construction subsidies -- and that's just the beginning of the goodies. The big polluters won't have to pay to clean up their toxic pollution anymore, especial water polluted with MTBE. And, as usual, your nonpolluting renewable energy industries -- solar, wind, geothermal -- get peanuts.
But hey, lots of people are getting peanuts from this Congress. They cut Pell grants for college students, and they left 12 million children out of the child-tax credit.
Nobody except students of politics worries much about process -- everyone else knows it's like sausage making and wisely averts his eyes. But you might want to keep an eye on some chilling procedural signs. Democrats are now being shut out of some conference committees entirely. That's new. What we're seeing more and more is less a pragmatic approach to problem solving, which used to be the way things got done in politics, and more and more straight party-ideology voting.
Compromise is becoming unfashionable. As Texas Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos said of his Republican colleagues: "They don't want to govern. They want to rule."