At one point during my time as a morning man on WCXR/Washington in the late 1980s, whenever I would give the weather forecast, I’d end with “right now it’s (whatever) degrees in The Most Corrupt City In The World!” After about a month, the Program Director Andy Beaubien asked me to knock it off because “it may be true, but it sounds so depressing!” By then, I was tired of it anyway, so I stopped, but that phrase has remained in the back of my mind.
This piece in the NY Times by Eric Lipton and Liz Moyer brought it forward again. It details how lobbyists for big corporations and very rich people literally wrote part of the new omnibus spending bill to save themselves a billion in tax dollars. In just 54 words, it preserves a real estate spinoff trick that’s designed expressly to give them money out of the pockets of taxpayers like you and me. Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader from Nevada who jumps at the whim of Big Gaming, pushed it through at their behest.
This is the sort of budget-skimming corruption we rarely hear about. Loudmouths on radio and TV talk about welfare cheats and poor people who just want a hand-out, but the truth is you shouldn’t worry about being ripped off by those at the bottom. The share of the federal budget being squandered at that end of the spectrum is minuscule compared to the enormous amounts being purposely steered towards those at the top — again and again. That’s where the reform must come, but never can, because the system is fixed by those with money, and thus, power.
Take military spending, for just one example. The Pentagon has certain demands, but Congress doesn’t think it asks for enough. Members of Congress regularly add in unnecessary pork-barrel projects that benefit their state or district. For instance, The Times points out a portion of the bill that directs the Coast Guard to build a $640 million National Security Cutter in Mississippi that the Coast Guard says it neither needs nor wants.
A provision which Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, helped secure, appropriated an extra $1 billion for a Navy destroyer that is likely to be built at Bath Iron Works in her state. The Defense Department had not requested money for the additional ship in this year’s budget.
Imagine trying that move in the private sector. The company doesn’t need a fleet of Cadillac Escalades, but it’s going to get them anyway. How would that go over with the board of directors and shareholders? How about with the employees, when the money for the vehicles comes out of workers’ checks?
Of course, very few of the senators and representatives who voted for the bill even knew what they were voting for:
The revised language drew almost no notice from members of Congress, who were given three days to review a 2,009-page spending plan and the 233-page list of tax breaks before they were asked to vote on the package with almost no debate. (Three House lawmakers interviewed just after the vote said they had known nothing about it.)
In Washington, that’s called leadership. Everywhere else, it’s called bullshit.