One Final GOP Rip-Off Before November

Remember the rampant looting that followed the fall of Saddam? You may have thought that was a pretty brazen display of thievery.

Forget about it. Those Iraqis were pikers compared to the Republican-engineered looting about to begin right here at home. Context being everything, let me set the stage.

The GOP can read the polls. They know the jig is up. Americans are onto them, and we fully intend to throw them out of power beginning with this November's midterm elections.

Which is why the rush is on to top off their booty accounts and those of their well-heeled friends. It's every man, woman and contractor for him or herself now -- and never mind appearances. Just start stuffing the cash into old duffel bags until they're dragged, kicking and screaming, away from the till.

Which brings me to the measure passed by the Republican Senate this week. When you're looking for loose cash these days, where better to look than Iraq and Afghanistan? And this week they went straight for it. The Senate was considering a supplemental bill to fund reconstruction in the countries we deconstructed during Bush's first term in office. The sum the White House requested: a lip-smacking $109 billion.

You might remember that soon after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, Halliburton and other administration-connected contractors were caught stealing hundreds of millions. ("Stealing": such an ugly word. They prefer "billing disputes" and "cost overruns.")

The flap over those early capers resulted in the appointment of Stuart Bowen as special inspector for Iraq reconstruction. Bowen was given a $24 million annual budget and a staff of 55 junkyard dog auditors.

Apparently, the White House failed to conduct its usual background checks of Mr. Bowen. Because, if they had, he would have never been hired. Unlike the standard issue administration yes-men, Bowen turned out to be the real deal. He and his small auditors thought they were actually supposed to catch cheats. And, sure enough, they began catching contractors forcing them to put the cookies back in the jar.

Which explains this week's White House hat trick. The administration had GOP senators on the appropriation committee to make a tiny change in wording to the new $109 billion authorization. It was a tiny change and, I am sure, they hoped it would go unnoticed.

Under prior authorizations, Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction funds were described as "relief and reconstruction" funds. Under the measure passed by the Senate this week, the newly authorized funds would fall under the description "foreign operation" funds.

Here's the rub: Under law, relief and reconstruction funds must be audited by Stuart Bowen's bean counters. But Bowen has no authority over appropriations designated as foreign operations funds. Those funds are audited by the State Department inspector general.

Now, remember … Bowen's annual budget is $24 million, and he has 55 seasoned auditors. (Auditors who have gotten to know the perps and their tricks very, very well.)

The State Department inspector general has a budget more like the Mayberry Police Department: $1.3 million and just 4 auditors.

"This is nothing more than a transparent attempt to shut down the only effective oversight of this massive reconstruction program, which has been plagued by fraud and mismanagement." (Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt.)
So with the Republican majority's days likely to end in six months, and the inevitable end of the U.S. occupation in Iraq sure to follow soon thereafter, it was time for one final all-out, all-you-can-steal, grab it-and-dash romp through the Federal Treasury.

Oh, and don't bother complaining or denouncing the "Republican culture of corruption," because they know you know. They've been caught redhanded so many times now, we react to new allegations the way we react when we hear another allegation that Michael Jackson or a priest has molested another kid. So what else is new?

These guys are so past being ashamed by their behavior. They know what they are. They know we know what they are. And they're OK with that -- I mean, really OK. After six years at sucking at the federal tit, they're laughing all the way to the (offshore) bank. They may lose power for a while, but the money they stole will assure that they will, at least, experience a (very) soft landing.

More grapes
Of course, not every GOP suppoter can be a defense contractor. Some are in other businesses, like oil and finance. But they too have been taken care of, thanks to the Bush tax cuts on income, dividends and capital gains.

But like war profiteering, fat tax cuts were threatened. They were set to next year, just as Democrats might win back the majority. Holy emergency Bat-Bush!

Something had to be done and done fast. So the GOP majority passed bills this week extending those tax cuts, despite the exploding national debt created by the first round of cuts.

And, just as it was with the first round of Bush tax cuts, the extension benefits the wealthy far, far, far more than it benefits ordinary working families. Someone making a million bucks a year will get a $42,000 tax break. Someone making $25,000 a year will get a $10 tax break. If you make under $50,000 a year, you'll get around $50.

Caution: Your tax dollars at work
So I guess the moral here is that, between now and November, do not get between a GOP member of Congress -- or one of their big business supporters -- and any lose federal money. The final harvest is in full swing now, and you will get trampled.

What we will witness over the next few months will be one final, unembarassed, undisguised squeezing of the American taxpayer.

"Final" might be too optimistic. Because they've done it before, been thrown out, and returned to do it to us again. So let me qualify that. One final squeezing -- until the next time the GOP and its supporters can snooker enough Americans to believe in their phony "supply-side" Ponzi scheme.

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