Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bush's year of accomplishment for Special Interests

From Amercian Progress:

A Year of Accomplishment for Special Interests

As he headed to his ranch in Crawford for the month of August, President Bush gave himself a pat on the back. On his radio address Saturday, Bush said, "this year Congress and I have addressed many key priorities." The only problem is, this administration's priorities are different from your priorities. Every major legislative initiative signed by the president this year has been a boon to special interests, but ignored the real needs of the American people. FOR

SPECIAL INTERESTS -- HIGHWAY BILL: On Friday, Congress sent to President Bush a six-year $286.5 billion highway bill which was overflowing with wasteful pork spending. Take the $25 million “Bridge to Nowhere,” connecting two South Carolina towns with a combined population of 2,000. Or the $95 million appropriated to widen a highway in Sheboygan and Fond du Lac counties in Wisconsin -- "a widening that the state Department of Transportation says is unnecessary for 15 to 20 years and that legislators approved after bypassing the DOT and a commission charged with developing major road projects." And thanks to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), known as "Uncle Ted" for his willingness to spoil his constituents with pork projects, the bill also includes $200 million for a one-mile span linking Ketchikan, Alaska, with Gravina Island (currently, fifty people live on Gravina Island -- "they reach Ketchikan by taking a seven-minute ferry ride") and $1.5 million for a single bus stop in Anchorage, Alaska.FOR

SPECIAL INTERESTS -- CAFTA: President Bush hailed the final passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement by saying that the House "has acted to advance America's economic and national security interests by passing the CAFTA-DR agreement." But the combined economies of the six other CAFTA nations "only equal that of New Haven, Conn." and "account for barely one percent of U.S. trade." The biggest winners in the so-called CAFTA victory are the drug and telecommunications industries, not the American worker. Meanwhile, "the Bush administration's fiscal irresponsibility with tax cuts and unnecessary spending priorities has crippled our ability to help workers retrain and compete on the international stage." Furthermore, President Bush "has tightened the eligibility requirements for [the Trade Adjustment Assistance program], denying many workers even the modest resources available under that program," "pursued policies that leave many workers who qualify for TAA benefits without access to this program," and essentially taken the safety net out from under real workers with real families directly affected by CAFTA.

FOR SPECIAL INTERESTS -- ENERGY BILL: Next up was energy legislation that lavished the fossil-fuel industries with $515 million in new subsidies, including "$125 million to reimburse oil and gas producers for 115% of the costs of remediating, reclaiming, and closing orphaned wells." The House managed to add $35 billion of pork to the energy bill in just the last three weeks before it was passed – "a total of $88.9 billion in subsidies to industry over 10 years in the bill." Despite these handouts, Congress admits the bill will "do nothing in the short term to drive down high gasoline and other energy prices or significantly reduce America's growing reliance on foreign oil." A 2004 analysis by the administration's Energy Information Administration found that the Bush-backed energy bill will actually raise gas prices and increase oil demand nearly 14 percent by 2010.FOR

SPECIAL INTERESTS -- BANKRUPTCY BILL: Then came the "bankruptcy reform" monstrosity, which made it more difficult for average Americans suffering from financial misfortune to declare bankruptcy. The credit card industry, which took in $30 billion in profits last year and doled out more than $7.8 million to candidates in the 2004 election cycle, lobbied relentlessly for the bill, pushing the fiction that bankruptcies occur because of "irresponsible consumerism" (in bill sponsor Charles Grassley's (R-IA) words). In fact, "ninety percent of all bankruptcies are triggered by the loss of a job, high medical bills or divorce." In recent years, personal bankruptcy rates have shot to record highs amid a weak labor market and declining health insurance coverage. The bill created several "new hurdles" that will make it harder and more expensive for Americans to recover from such episodes, while failing to stop the actual abuses that plague the system.

FOR SPECIAL INTERESTS -- IRAQ SUPPLEMENTAL: Even the Iraq supplemental spending was covered with special interest fingerprints. Though the bills were passed without any provisions to hold the White House accountable for its flailing Iraq strategy, and failed to deal with the equipment shortfalls plaguing our troops, they did offer major cash for questionable contracts and corrupt and incompetent corporations. At the same time, the Pentagon has pursued "back-door budgeting for the wars." Gordon Adams, director of security policy studies at George Washington University, referenced "reduced training, exercises and operating tempo, slowdowns in maintenance, [and] delays on maintaining facilities" as ways that the Pentagon has tried to get around paying for the bloated war costs. Other strategies appear to be not paying soldiers what they are owed and deducting money for debts that do not even exist.

FOR SPECIAL INTERESTS -- TORT REFORM: And finally, there was the so-called "tort reform" legislation, pushed by conservatives who claimed "the prospect of big jury awards in medical malpractice cases was causing insurance rates to soar and doctors to abandon their practices." If you scrape away the overheated rhetoric and look at the reality, however, a very different picture emerges. The legislation has no real effect on the cost of health care: the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found malpractice costs account for less than 2 percent of health care spending, and that capping medical malpractice would affect private health insurance premiums by a measly one half of 1 percent. Moreover, the caps would "disproportionately affect" children and seniors who live on fixed incomes. According to the CBO, it also would "undermine incentives for safety" while at the same time making it "harder for some patients with legitimate but difficult claims to find legal representation."


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