Topic: Government and Politics

The Stimulus Lobbying Frenzy

At RealClearPolitics I wrote about the vast army of lobbyists jockeying for money from the TARP bailout and the stimulus bill:

The $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), better known as the Wall Street bailout, was cooked up mostly in secret by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board. But the bill was no sooner proposed than lobbyists started flooding Capitol Hill and the Treasury to get a piece of it.

Every company and industry wanted to be sure that it would be eligible for some of the money, and members of Congress worked to slip their constituents and campaign donors into the bill’s 451 pages. By the time it passed, it included special provisions for Puerto Rican rum producers, auto race tracks, and corporations operating in American Samoa (such as Starkist, which is headquartered in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district). It required that insurance companies pay for mental health benefits and granted tax benefits for victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and makers of children’s wooden arrows….

Next up is the nearly-trillion-dollar stimulus bill. Don’t expect anything different. Already senators are pushing to get their pet projects and home-state interests into the measure. “It’s very intense right now,” one Washington lobbyist told U.S. News. “I’m working late every day, until 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock. Every imaginable client has been calling me with ways of how their business, or their projects, should fit into the economic stimulus package. It’s wild. No idea is too far-fetched for people.”

No sooner was the article published than more examples fill the media: “A Republican [in Ohio] called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” “Cities, towns ready to vie for stimulus funds.” “Road Builders Compete for Slice of Stimulus.” “West Michigan’s stimulus wish list.” “A State with a Wish List for Stimulus Spending.” “Steel industry lobbyists seem to have persuaded the House to insert a “Buy American” provision in the stimulus bill it passed last week.” “JetBlue Goes to Washington to Discuss Economic Stimulus Plan.”

When you lay out a picnic, you get ants. And this is the biggest picnic in the history of pork-filled picnicking.

Washington’s View of the World

Remember that Saul Steinberg cover for the New Yorker that showed Manhattan’s view of America – just a vague grouping of place names between the Hudson River and the Pacific Ocean?

On Sunday we got a glimpse of how the Washington Post views the sprawling diversity of America. In an article on Cobb Island, a waterfront community about 90 minutes from Washington, the Post commented:

Cobb Island has always attracted a variety of people, from government workers to politicians.

Stimulus Divides 2012 GOP Contenders

It is never too early to start talking about the next presidential election, and for many of those expected to contend for the GOP nomination, the proposed economic stimulus package provides an early test of whether they will be Bush-style big-government conservatives or whether they will champion limited government and economic freedom. So far, the record is decidedly mixed.

In the “give me my pork” camp are governors Sarah Palin, Charlie Crist, and Tim Pawlenty. Palin, darling of many “movement” conservatives came all the way to Washington to lobby for the bill. Crist worked the phones, unsuccessfully trying to convince Republican House members from Florida to support the bill. Pawlenty admits some concern over the bill’s impact on the federal deficit, but says, governors “are entitled to ask for our share of the money.”

On the other side, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney says that he opposes the bill. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal also opposes the stimulus bill, though he admits he may accept the money if it passes. Taking the strongest stand against the bill is South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who not only opposes the bill but says he probably would not accept any funds for his state. “It’s incumbent on me as one of the nation’s governors to speak out against what I believe is ultimately incredibly harmful to the economy, to taxpayers and to the worth of the U.S. dollar,” Sanford said.

It’s a long way to 2012, of course, but it looks like Republican voters will have some clear choices.

Naïveté, Intégrité, Fraternité

HHS secretary-nominee and former U.S. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle owed the IRS more than $140,000 in back taxes and interest.  One contributing factor: a spokeswoman says Daschle “naively” believed that the Cadillac and driver provided gratis by a business partner was “nothing more than a generous offer from a friend.”

A former Daschle aide reassures us, “He’s the gold standard for integrity in government.”  (Precisely the problem, isn’t it?)

The Washington Post reports that none of this is likely to derail Daschle’s confirmation by his former Senate colleagues.  “Senators also cited their personal knowledge of Daschle in justifying their willingness to dismiss the tax issue,” writes the Post. “He and his wife, Linda Hall Daschle, donated over the past two years to at least 14 senators who will be tasked with voting on his confirmation.”

Only the Little People Pay Taxes

Tom Daschle has joined Timothy Geithner in the not-so-exclusive club of Obama Cabinet appointees who evaded tens of thousands of dollars in federal taxes until they were vetted for their Cabinet nominations.

It’s too bad Leona Helmsley can’t be nominated as Commerce Secretary.

I sympathize with anybody trying to hold down his tax bill. Government is too big and too expensive, few of us feel we get our money’s worth from our taxes, and we all have better uses for our money than bridges to nowhere and free condoms.  But honestly, shouldn’t people who want to increase taxes on the rest of us – like Daschle, Geithner, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chairman Charles Rangel, Al Franken, Governor David Paterson’s top aide, Democratic National Convention staffers, Al Sharpton, and so on – pay their own taxes?

Obama’s First Broken Campaign Promise

Over on the Tech Liberation Front blog, I’ve been following the Obama administration’s early steps on transparency, a subject we dove into at a December Cato policy forum called “Just Give Us the Data!

President Obama committed to make his administration “the most open and transparent in history.” Boilerplate promises like this often go into campaigns and electioneering. But as a senator, Obama was a leading proponent of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which created USASpending.gov. Unlike typical politicians promising the most ethical [whatever-they’re-running-for] in history, President Obama and his staff know what transparency is and how to deliver it.

Breaking from the pack, who were (rightly) appreciative of early presidential memoranda calling for new guidelines governing the Freedom of Information Act and an Open Government Directive, I noted the absence of concrete action on the part of the White House itself.

The new administration did not port over the transition’s excellent “Seat at the Table” program, in which documents submitted to the transition team were posted online and subjected to public comment. That failure I called “The Transparency Dog that Didn’t Bark.”

The economic stimulus bill contains a helpful, if imperfect, requirement for disclosure of stimulus spending on a site called Recovery.gov — perhaps the most-visited non-existent Web site in history.

The White House is not walking the talk on transparency, and yesterday the president violated a campaign promise on transparency. Instead of posting bills sent to him by Congress for five days and taking public comment, President Obama signed non-emergency legislation the day after receiving it. PolitiFact.com rated this as President Obama’s first broken campaign promise.

The president’s good intentions are not in doubt, but nobody ever said delivering on transparency was going to be easy. So far, he seems to be having a rough time of it. The Obama administration can still deliver revolutionary change in the transparency area, but it has to actually work at it and take concrete steps.