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Bush Losing Power to Sway CongressDuke Energy Employee Advocate - http://dukeemployees.com - July 28, 2001
The New York Times has published several articles that indicate that G. W. Bush is no longer able to ride roughshod over Congress. This is exactly as it should be. Bush is “strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage.” Then, hopefully, “he will be heard no more”!
The most powerful train that G. W. Bush chose to jump in front of is the Patients’ Bill of Rights. This is legislation that the people want and need. People are tired of seeing loved ones suffer and die, just so CEO’s will have more money to stuff in their bloated pockets! Bush is finding that he is too weak to stop the bill.
It is time for a little White House subterfuge. By promoting a similar, but weaker bill, Bush is trying to still deny people health care recourse, and spare himself a humiliating defeat.
Those who oppose the bill to ban soft money in Congress knew that they could not stop the bill, so they buried it. Bush would like to see the same thing happen to the Patients’ Rights bill, but there are complications. Some members of Bush’s own party do not want the bill to be buried. They know that the people want this bill and if they do not get it, there will be repercussions. Those who have been lap dogs for Bush are now growling at him. Some of them will soon face reelection, and have no interest in committing political suicide.
Those who oppose the bill are finding that they do not have the power to steam-roll the watered down bill through. Some want to delay the vote, but do not want to pay the political price.
Senator John Edwards, of North Carolina, said: "The president's proposal is a step in the right direction, but it is seriously flawed and probably unworkable. We started with the fundamental principle that if H.M.O.'s overrule doctors and make medical decisions, they should be treated exactly like doctors. But the president's proposal maintains the privileged status of H.M.O.'s."
Bush does not want you to be able to sue insurance companies for denying you needed medical coverage. The legal system is the only thing that separates civilized society from the jungle. When citizens are denied the use of courts, their only option for redress is to take the law into their own hands! It has happened and will continue to happen. When citizens feel abused by a crooked system and feel any attempts at redress are hopeless, a certain number will take drastic action.
Bush is in favor of tort reform. He really does not want citizens to be able to use the legal system. He wants corporations to be able to take your earned pension, health coverage, and anything else with impunity. It is high time that Congress is standing up to him. He managed to slip into the White House by the skin of his teeth and the assistance of the Supreme Court. He has no mandate to push anything through Congress.
Bush does not have all of his own party members "eating out of his hand” concerning his energy plan, environmental issues, Social Security “reform,” and embryonic stem cell research.
In another rebuke for Bush, the House voted to bar the Bush administration from easing rules on arsenic in drinking water. Other defeats for Bush include: mining, offshore oil drilling, and energy exploration in national monuments. The Bush agenda is being defeated in the House. He has even less sway over the Senate.
Bush lost face when the Senate defied him by voting to impose strict safety standards on Mexican trucks on American roads. Parliamentary tricks to kill the bill failed. In a press release, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook stated: “We must not permit the expanded trade allowed by NAFTA to be accomplished at the expense of the safety of those on our country's roads.”
Bush is also being challenged by members of both parties because of his stance on global warming. Senator Jeff Bingaman said: "I certainly feel that leadership's got to come from somewhere. It's not coming from the administration."
Bush's Commission to Strengthen Social Security has been accused of issuing a biased report, intended only to promote the White House agenda. The Bush reform is guaranteed to help only one group, big financial institutions.
Supposedly in jest, Bush said: "A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."
Just remember that many a truth has been told in jest, and secret longings are sometimes revealed.
Drug Industry's 625 Washington LobbyistsPublic Citizen - Press Release - July 23, 2001
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Embarking on an unprecedented lobbying blitz and a frenzy of spending, the pharmaceutical industry last year fought like never before to stop Congress from enacting a Medicare drug benefit, a Public Citizen report shows.
Worried that a benefit would lead to discounted prices in the lucrative senior citizen market, the industry spent a record $262 million on political influence in the 1999-2000 election cycle. The report, The Other Drug War: Big Pharma's 625 Washington Lobbyists, documents how the U.S. drug industry spent $177 million on lobbying, $65 million on issue ads and $20 million on campaign contributions - more than any other industry in 1999-2000.
"The drug industry is one of the more hypocritical industries around," said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch. "It claims to be working for consumers when in fact it uses profits from sales to buy access to lawmakers and defeat pro-consumer prescription drug legislation." Among the report's highlights:
· The drug industry hired 625 different lobbyists last year - or more than one lobbyist for every member of Congress - to coax, cajole and coerce lawmakers. The one-year bill for this team of lobbyists was $92.3 million, a $7.2 million increase over what the industry spent for lobbyists in 1999.
· Drug companies took advantage of the revolving door between Congress, the executive branch and the industry itself. Of the 625 lobbyists employed in 2000, more than half were either former members of Congress (21) or worked in Congress or other federal agencies (295).
· These "revolving door" lobbyists were well-connected. In addition to the 21 former members of Congress, 33 drug industry lobbyists served as chief of staff to members of Congress, 32 worked in the White House and 11 others worked for the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
· The industry's $20 million in campaign contributions and millions more in issue ads attacking candidates opposed by the drug industry aided its army of lobbyists in gaining access to congressional representatives.
It's Good to Be the KingNew York Times - By Frank Rich - July 7, 2001
What does the Fourth mean to you, Mr. President?" was the hardball question thrown at George W. Bush this week, as he visited the Jefferson Memorial in search of ordinary citizens and a photo op. The answer: "Well, it's an unimaginable honor to be the president during the Fourth of July of this country." Or, as Mel Brooks might put it (and has): "It's good to be the king."
Mr. Bush's response was a perfect summation of the man we've seen in office so far: The Second Boomer President, a narcissist who can't see past himself.
On the same day as his drop-by at the Jefferson Memorial, Mr. Bush opened another window into his limited, arrogant worldview when he applauded the medical treatment of his vice president. Dick Cheney, the president said, "sets a good example for Americans who may share the same condition he has" about the need "to take precautionary measures." It never occurred to Mr. Bush that 43 million Americans have no health insurance to pay for a device with a price tag of $30,000 (exclusive of installation), or that most other Americans would have to battle their managed-care providers at length and perhaps fruitlessly to win approval for so costly a "precautionary measure." These Americans are not even on his radar screen, which is why he made the blunder of threatening to veto any patients' bill of rights that vexes the H.M.O.'s, which are among his biggest campaign contributors.
The president's polls are down, and Washington, of course, is shocked, shocked. Washington had given Mr. Bush high marks for his amazing feats to date: the largest tax cut in 20 years, mandating school testing, standing up to the Chinese, hobnobbing with the Europeans, wearing a jacket and tie in the Oval Office. What's gone wrong?
One alleged culprit was the supposed liberal slant of the first poll to mark the extent of Mr. Bush's political anemia, the New York Times/ CBS News survey finding the president's job approval rating at 53 percent and the country disagreeing with him on nearly every issue, including the use of the budget surplus for a tax cut. "When I look at The Times's polls, they are generally tilted toward the Democrats," said John Zogby, a rival pollster championed by conservatives, who then added that the Times/CBS poll was "an inaccurate reading [that] doesn't tell me anything." Days later, the Zogby/Reuters poll showed Mr. Bush's job approval number at 51 - two points lower than Times/CBS.
What we have here, big time, is another case of disconnect between the Beltway and the country. In the Clinton years, Washington kept saying that Americans would soon give the president the boot, only to be rebuffed by the president's high job ratings, which were then confirmed by the Democrats' romp in the 1998 election, at the height of the impeachment frenzy. In the Bush years the disconnect has inverted itself: Washington keeps saying that the country is warming to its decent new president, only to be confounded by polls showing what CNN has described as "a slow, steady slide spread out over several months" that is capsizing the G.O.P.'s ratings at an even steeper pace.
Liberals tend to attribute Mr. Bush's decline to what they call his right-wing policies. But it's a measure of how malleable this president is that he has backed away from so many conservative principles with little fight. In just over five months, he has abandoned school vouchers and his opposition to price controls for California energy; he has knuckled under to protests led by Al Sharpton in Vieques; he has embraced the "honest, straightforward" Vladimir Putin as a soulmate, which looks even more foolish now than it did three weeks ago, given Mr. Putin's subsequent betrayal of a U.S.-backed U.N. resolution to retool sanctions against Saddam Hussein.
The real ideology that drives Mr. Bush remains less that of the hard right than that of his soft character, which is a product of a biography full of easy landings. A man who has never faced adversity - who has finessed Andover, Yale, Vietnam and brief careers in business and politics with well-placed connections and sweetheart deals - is not conversant with reality as most Americans have experienced it. The problem isn't that he's wealthy - so were F.D.R. and Ronald Reagan, whose hard knocks in life gave them an empathy for their fellow citizens - but that he's out of touch. He doesn't know how much he doesn't know and is in no rush to find out.
What's been farcical about the Bush presidency so far is how quickly his smug policy assertions, and not just about Mr. Putin, are upended almost instantaneously by events or facts (some of them supplied by his own administration). "America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970's," read the opening of the Bush energy report, which also warned that skyrocketing energy prices were disrupting family finances. But, as David Sanger and Joseph Kahn pointed out in The Times, a chart in the same administration report showed that Americans spend less than 5 percent of their disposable income on energy costs now, a sizable drop from the 8 percent of the early Reagan years. Nor was the shortage itself real: Gas prices have fallen like Mr. Bush's polls, with everyone from Alan Greenspan to Sir John Browne, the head of BP oil, dismissing talk of a crisis.
A similar comeuppance followed Mr. Bush's insistence that the verdict of science wasn't in on global warming - a stance immediately demolished by a report that the administration itself solicited from the National Academy of Sciences. Last week the president's blind faith in abstinence-only sex education was undermined by the Surgeon General's report, which politely pointed out that only sex education that includes birth control information has any track record of delaying teenage sexual activity.
The administration is studiously ignoring that finding, and presumably it will do the same with the internal Defense Department report uncovered last week by Defense Week. The report reveals that the tests given to Mr. Bush's favorite toy, a national missile defense system, have been overly "rehearsed," rendering them meaningless as indicators as to whether a missile shield could actually accomplish anything beyond busting the budget.
Will Mr. Bush also ignore the National Institutes of Health report on the dazzling medical value of embryonic stem cell research? Our "pro- life" president's position is that adult stem cells can substitute for embryonic stem cells in cures for diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Once again the science contradicts him. Why is Mr. Bush disregarding it?
On this life-or-death decision, political science takes precedence over biological science. Karl Rove, this president's answer to Dick Morris, is worried about losing Catholic votes and offending the pope on the eve of Mr. Bush's visit to the Vatican. But the political science is wrong too. Polls show that most Catholics, just like most other Americans, support embryonic stem cell research. (And if Mr. Bush is so solicitous of the pope, why isn't he reversing his position on the death penalty as well?) It's hard to imagine that any leader in touch with his constituents would waffle as long as Mr. Bush has on a no-brainer decision like this, putting a months-long hold on research that could save countless lives.
As the fine print of the president's poll numbers reveals, the public isn't blind to any of his actions (or non- actions). Only a quarter of the country answers yes when asked if Mr. Bush "has concentrated on problems that matter most to you." Nearly two-thirds think he lied about an energy crisis to reward big oil. As with the last administration, Americans have sized up the strengths and weaknesses of this one well ahead of the press. They salute Mr. Bush for having higher "moral values" than Bill Clinton, but they don't make the Washington mistake of confusing his personal life with his policies.
The White House, meanwhile, continues to hope that we can be suckered by pictures. Never mind that Mr. Bush's recent, sudden tour of national parks failed to convince a single American that he was an environmentalist. By Independence Day, his handlers had him back posing with inner-city black kids again, as they always instruct him to do when polls plummet. We'll know panic has really set in if those kids turn up to blow out his birthday candles this weekend in Kennebunkport.
Red Tide RisingNew York Times - By PAUL KRUGMAN - July 6, 2001
During the debate over George W. Bush's tax cut, administration officials told wavering supporters not to worry. The Congressional Budget Office, they insisted, was underestimating future surpluses; in fact there would be plenty of money, even after the tax cut, for other priorities.
Whoops. No sooner had Mr. Bush signed that tax cut into law than those same officials began admitting that the budget outlook wasn't that rosy after all. In fact, revenue is dropping like a stone. A suspicious man might wonder about the timing: isn't it strange that the bad news on revenue came to light only after the tax cut had passed?
In any case, get ready for more bad news. When the Budget Office updates its projections next month, it is certain to mark them down, not up - and that will be just the beginning of a dismal trend. Forget about those budget surpluses as far as the eye can see; from now on the prospect is for chronic budget shortfalls.
By "shortfalls" I don't exactly mean deficits. The federal government as a whole will probably take in more money than it puts out for a decade or so, until the baby boomers reach retirement age. But more than all of this surplus will come from Medicare and Social Security. And those programs are supposed to run surpluses, to build up reserves for the demographic deluge. The rest of the budget will be in deficit; in effect, the tax cut will come at the expense of the retirement trust funds.
Of course, administration officials play down the sudden budget deterioration, saying that the surplus will return once the economy recovers. But it won't. Yes, corporate profits taxes - the big item in this year's revenue slump - will bounce at least partway back. But income tax receipts will steadily decline, as those huge tax cuts for the rich phase in. And the spending assumptions used to justify those tax cuts already look ludicrously low. In particular, the Bush administration has already asked for far more defense spending than it admitted it wanted before the tax cut passed, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hasn't even started on his real shopping list.
None of this should come as a surprise. Anyone who was paying attention knew that to sell the tax cut Mr. Bush's people deliberately underestimated the cut's impact on revenues; deliberately underestimated the cost of delivering on the administration's promises on defense, education and prescription drugs; and deliberately swept under the rug other budget issues, like the need to fix the alternative minimum tax, that will inevitably subtract hundreds of billions from the surplus. In short, the claim that the tax cut was easily affordable given other priorities was what is technically known as a "lie."
The only real question was how long they would get away with it. Without the economic slump, they might have maintained plausible deniability until 2003 or 2004; because of the slump, the moment of truth is already here.
Now comes the spinning.
At first the Bush team's line will be that the economic slump is the sole cause of the shortfall. Once that line has been exhausted, they will move the goal posts - saying that while the Social Security surplus is in a "lockbox," the Medicare surplus is fair game. This position makes no sense; both programs serve retirees, so both should be accumulating reserves to deal with the baby boomers. But this argument might succeed in confusing some people.
Finally, when it becomes apparent that the tax cut will cut into the Social Security trust fund too - quite possibly as soon as next year - we'll be told that this doesn't matter, that the trust fund is a mere accounting fiction. (In fact, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has already started saying this.) And in a way that's true. But it's an accounting fiction with a purpose - namely, to prevent irresponsible politicians from undermining the government's long-term ability to honor its promises. Alas, it failed.
If the Senate had known six weeks ago what it knows now, it wouldn't have approved that huge, irresponsible tax cut. But now it's too late; proposals to scale the cut back don't have much of a chance as long as this administration is in office.
The truth is that moderates who voted for that tax cut were snookered. And the nation will spend years paying for the consequences of their gullibility.
Pocketing the Trust FundCommon Dreams - by Dean Baker - June 29, 2001
Last week Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill made the news by publicly announcing that the Social Security trust fund did not have any assets. This statement was newsworthy because the Social Security trustees report shows that the fund will have close to $1.2 trillion in government bonds at the end of the year. $1.2 trillion of government bonds would qualify as assets in most people _ s books. Mr. O’Neill’s statement was especially strange since, as Treasury Secretary, he was one of the trustees who signed this year’s report showing the $1.2 trillion in bonds as assets.
Mr. O’Neill is claiming that the bonds held by the trust fund are not real, and therefore don’t need to be paid off like other bonds. It’s clear who would lose in this story - the 150 million workers who pay Social Security taxes every year. The trust fund has accumulated its bonds from the Social Security taxes paid by these workers. When the fund collected more taxes than it needed to pay benefits, it bought government bonds.
Now O’Neill is telling us that those bonds are fake, effectively taking $8,000 from every worker contributing to Social Security. If O’Neill has his way, the money that we paid into Social Security to support our retirement will never be paid back by the government.
If the losers from Mr. O’Neill’s plan are obvious, who are the winners? Fortunately, we don’t have to look far. It turns out that the winners are the exact same people who got the most money out of the President’s tax cuts - including people like Mr. O’Neill. Defaulting on the trust fund’s bonds will place hundreds of billions of dollars into these folks’ pockets.
The way it works is fairly simple. While Social Security and Medicare are financed by designated taxes that come out of workers’ paychecks, the rest of the government is financed primarily by the corporate and personal income taxes. As President Bush repeatedly told us, when he wanted to explain why the rich got most of his tax cut - rich people pay most of these taxes.
This means that if we don’t make the government pay off the bonds held by Social Security, we are effectively giving another tax break to these same rich people. We can even get a rough idea of how much of a break we’re giving them. The $1.2 trillion held by the trust fund is approximately equal to how much the government is currently collecting each year in non Social Security and Medicare taxes. While the bonds would, in principle, be paid off over several decades, if the government just defaults on them, it is effectively giving people a tax break equal to their current income tax bill.
Last year Mr. O’Neill had an income of over $50 million. If he were to continue to do so well in subsequent years, his share of the windfall could easily exceed $10 million. Some other Bush Administration officials would also come out quite well from a default on the trust fund. For example, based on his 2000 returns, Vice-President Cheney would get back another $14,300,000 in taxes.
Some of the members of the President’s Social Security Commission, which apparently also advocates default on the government’s debt to Social Security, might also be able put a few dollars in their pocket if they have their way. Richard Parsons, the Commission’s co-chair and a top executive at AOL Time-Warner, would surely be able to add a few hundred thousand dollars to his bank account if the government defaulted on its debt to Social Security. Even former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the other co-chair, would be able to pocket a lot more than the average Social Security check if the government defaulted on the trust fund.
In short, most of the people who advocate defaulting on the Social Security trust fund stand to get a substantial tax break if the government actually defaults on these bonds. Certainly they have other motivations, but it's comforting to know that someone would benefit from defaulting on the government's obligation to 150 million workers.
A sweetheart deal for big tobaccoMSNBC News - By Daniel Small - June 20, 2001
The Bush Administration’s announcement that it is “settling” the government’s suit against the tobacco industry is yet another shameful episode in the federal government’s ongoing abdication on one of the most important health issues of our time. The Justice Department’s suit had finally given the feds a place at the table on this issue, where state and local governments and private groups have worked so long and hard in their absence. But the Bush Administration, awash in $6.3 million in campaign contributions from Big Tobacco, has now pulled that chair out from under the Justice Department’s case.
THE SUIT, filed in 1999, charges that the tobacco industry has fraudulently marketed its products since the mid-1950’s. It accuses the industry of wrongly asserting that nicotine was not addictive and falsely denying that they were marketing to children. It seeks to recover more than $20 billion in federal healthcare costs for Medicare patients, veterans, and federal employees, plus other damages. President Clinton proudly announced the suit in his 1999 State of the Union Speech.
Last September, U.S. Judge Gladys Kessler threw out two counts against the industry seeking to recover costs to the federal government for smoking-related healthcare. Although that was clearly a blow to the case, the Justice Department has already asked Kessler to reconsider, and could then appeal her decision. Moreover, she held that the Justice Department did have grounds for its other two counts, brought under the federal racketeering (RICO) statute, and the suit could go forward.
At the time, the Chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Division announced that, “we look forward to proceeding to trial and holding the tobacco companies accountable for the fraudulent conduct.”
Campaigning for president last year, Bush opposed the case, railing against it as an effort to “legislate through litigation.”
However, one of the reasons that litigation is so important on big-money issues like tobacco and guns is precisely because legislation hasn’t worked. Congress has not only refused to act, but has reached out to try to block action by others. So it is here: Congress, including then-Senator John Ashcroft, sought to kill the suit by blocking the funding for it. Ashcroft also blocked legislation to stiffen federal regulations on tobacco. Now, as Attorney General, he can give Big Tobacco the sweetheart deal he couldn’t give as a senator.
Let’s be clear about this, the case is not being settled, in any meaningful sense. It is being tanked, scuttled. The signs are clear that any settlement will just be face-saving cover.
First, the appointment of a government “settlement team” was announced publicly before anyone bothered to tell the Justice Department’s own litigation team, or to call the other side. That’s not negotiation, it’s surrender. Second, just in case that wasn’t clear enough, Bush Administration “sources” were actively belittling the government’s case in the press, basically saying that if the case isn’t settled, it will be dropped. With that background, the “settlement team” already looked like beggars pleading for crumbs. Real negotiations only come from a position of strength. This will be more like the losing army asking to wear its uniforms at the surrender ceremony, or some other face-saving token.
This action is particularly embarrassing because it goes against the trend elsewhere. It comes at a time when years of hard work by state and local governments and private groups and individuals is finally showing signs of success. For example:
In 1998, in a suit brought by state governments, the tobacco industry agreed to pay $240 billion over 25 years. In 2000, Big Tobacco lost a $145 billion decision in a Miami court in a suit covering Florida smokers Earlier this year, a California jury awarded a smoker with lung cancer $3 billion in punitive damages against the industry.
So now, just as there is starting to be progress across the board, the Bush Administration wants to cut and run. A case that the Justice Department looked forward to trying in September is suddenly fraught with problems. A Republican president, who took $6.3 million from Big Tobacco, can’t find $1.8 million in the entire federal budget to fund this litigation. And the Justice Department lawyers who have been working on this case diligently for years get sandbagged by their own superiors, who have created a “settlement team” charade.
Oh, there will be a settlement. Big Tobacco will surely throw a bone to the feds, in the form of money and other concessions, to end the expense and risk of litigation, and give the Administration some cover for bagging the suit. Besides, if this is settled to Ashcroft’s liking, the Bush people have something else the tobacco company’s want: a release from future suits. When most civil lawsuits settle, both parties release each other from future claims. Here, having reversed the prior administration’s policies, the Bush Administration can give the tobacco industry some insurance against future policy changes, by tying the government’s hands regarding future litigation, and other protections.
Everyone involved in the issue needs to be watchful that this one-time surrender doesn’t turn into a long-term free ride.
The federal government’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry was reviewed, approved, and brought by experienced Justice Department lawyers. It was reviewed by a federal judge and key portions were upheld as viable legal theories.
Much of the evidence has been gathered in other cases that have resulted in massive verdicts or settlements. If, as tobacco industry supporters claim, the case is without merit, that should be determined in a court of law, not in the backrooms. If, on the other hand, it is finally time for the federal government to hold the tobacco companies “accountable”, the Courts are also the place for that. Either way, the case should be decided on the merits.
Maybe the Bush Administration really wasn’t swayed by politics and big campaign money. However, by ripping the case away from the courts, and even from the lawyers who brought it, in a way that sends such a clear message of surrender, they have made it hard for anyone to believe otherwise. By interfering with the conduct of major litigation, the administration has damaged the public’s faith in every aspect of the litigation process, including the Department of Justice and the courts themselves.