The True Scandal of American Politics
This article is from the January/February 1999 issue of Dollars and Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at http://www.dollarsandsense.org
This article is from the January/February 1999 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.
In a single 15 minute vote, the 535 members of Congress passed a 40 pound, $500 billion, 4000 page bill that not one elected official had read in its entirety. The bill, the Omnibus Appropriations Act, negotiated behind closed doors by a handful of individuals representing Congressional leadership and the White House, is swollen with so much rotten pork and dirty back room deals that even veteran Washington pundits are holding their noses.
Stuffed to the gills with election-year goodies at the expense of initiatives desperately needed by working America—health care reform, job training, a minimum wage increase—the Omnibus bill whistles corporate America's favorite tune. The bill teems with rebates for oil companies, extended tax breaks for millionaires who own foreign companies, and $50 million for "war and revolution insurance" for corporations that throw American workers out on the street and move their factories to unstable third world countries. Congressional leaders even remembered old friends, setting aside $2 million to start a Robert J. Dole Institute for Public Policy.
Seeking consolation in the 100,000 new teachers that Clinton insisted on provides little comfort. The budget deal only pays for 30,000, while the other 70,000 are part of Clinton's education "initiative," with no money set aside.
Due to its enormous size, equaling one-third of the entire federal budget, the Omnibus Appropriations Act contained many important programs. The funds included in this bill will ensure that roads are built, seniors get their medical prescription rebates, and family farms are saved. But that's the trick. In order to get controversial measures passed that could not survive in the light of day, the leadership coupled them with vital funding measures, and therefore ensured passage of their favorite corporate welfare programs and pork projects. Moreover, Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton took the opportunity to attach several pieces of legislation that had been voted down on the House floor, including $18 billion in funding for the IMF. While this may shock those with a refined sense of democratic process, Gingrich and Clinton couldn't be happier with the latest budget deal. Setting aside their occasional disagreements over infidelity and abortion, this marriage is based on philosophical agreement on most major issues, ranging from economics and trade to defense priorities. Our President and Speaker of the House come to the altar under a pro-business, pro-defense, pro-free trade canopy. Life at the bargaining table is marital bliss when parties agree on 90% of issues, with no chance of divorce anytime in the foreseeable future.
Let's look at their latest pride-and-joy. Our illustrious couple added $9.1 billion to an already bloated $280 billion Pentagon budget, which represents the largest peacetime military spending increase since the days of Ronald Reagan's Cold War. Congressional leaders demanded $96 million in "drug-interdiction" funding to aid the Colombian government in purchasing six Black Hawk Helicopters to curtail Marxist guerrilla movements. The Republicans insisted on earmarking funding for their defense contractor friends, but refused to raise military pension benefits in order to help veterans desperately in need.
They also added $1 billion to the useless $50 billion Star Wars program. Each of the last five attempts to shoot missiles out of the sky has failed, and the Department of Defense will tell you why. According to Gen. Henry Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "putting more money into [Ballistic Missile Defense] won't produce a product any sooner... money will not help solve the engineering and integration challenges that are being faced."
Worst of all, the leadership of both parties poured $18 billion of US taxpayers' funds down the International Monetary Fund (IMF) blackhole. The IMF has become the prime architect and enforcer of corporate globalism. While imposing a right-wing agenda on the developing world, the IMF has forced the majority of the world's economies into a descent through hell. The recent failures in South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand frighteningly emphasize the IMF's disastrous policy prescriptions, which force countries to gut labor laws and slash social spending for the poor in order to attract international capital and bail out bankers.
This Gingrich-Clinton alliance is the true scandal of American politics. Unlike the Monica affair, this marriage is fully consummated and brazenly advertised. Unfortunately the relationship is far from impotent, allowing policy to arrive nine months later that is deaf and mute to the needs of working families in America.