Posts Tagged ‘Lobbyists’

Trump’s broken promises to working Americans

May 14, 2018

Donald Trump and supporters. Source: Quartz

When Donald Trump ran for President, it was on an economic populist platform that, in many ways, put him well to the left of Hillary Clinton and of any Republican since Richard Nixon.

Most of what he promised would have been politically popular, economically feasible and beneficial to American working people—although not necessarily politically feasible.  But none of it was done or even seriously attempted.

Jonathan Chait last week wrote about Trump’s broken promises for New York magazine.  Here’s a short list of Trump promises:

  • Create a health insurance program that covers more people than Obamacare.
  • Negotiate lower drug prices through Medicare.
  • Pull out of NAFTA and negotiate a better trade deal.
  • Raise taxes on the rich, including himself.
  • Enact a $1 trillion infrastructure program (later $1.5 trillion).
  • Enact a six-point plan to curb lobbying, including no lobbying by former government officials or members of Congress until five years after leaving office and curbs on foreign companies making campaign contributions.

Trump has done nothing to replace or reform Obamacare, only made minor changes that make it worse.  Nothing was done to lower drug prices.

Simply canceling NAFTA would have been wrong.  Nations, even superpower nations, can’t just break agreements and not suffer consequences.  But there certainly is a need to renegotiate NAFTA and similar agreements.

The infrastructure plan is now $200 million, and even that has been postponed until next year.

As for putting limits on lobbying—that is a joke!

But I suspect that most Americans aren’t aware of this.  Most of the reporting on Trump has to  do with the Russiagate investigation, or Trump’s scandalous personal behavior, or the latest outrageous thing that Trump has said on social media.

These things matter, of course.  But they have nothing to do with public policy.

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Clinton’s team has lobbyists for Russian bank

April 8, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s campaign team includes John and Tony Podesta, lobbyists for Sberbank, Russia’s largest financial institution.

Hillary Clinton and John Podesta

Hillary Clinton and John Podesta

John Podesta, the chair of the Clinton campaign, and his brother Tony, a bundler of Clinton campaign contributions, are the founders and heads of the Podesta Group, one of Washington D.C.’s top lobbying firms.  They registered the firm at a lobbyist for Sberbank, as required by law, at the end of March.

This was reported in an article in the Observer, an on-line news service.  A Sberbank affiliate, Troika Dialog Group, is mentioned in the Panama Papers leak.

Sberbank isn’t the Podestas’ only foreign client.  During the past 10 years, the brothers have lobbied on behalf of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Myanmar (Burma), Qatar, Somalia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Kenya, Ukraine and Vietnam.

Of course the Podesta Group has plenty of domestic clients as well, and it isn’t unusual for a K-Street lobbying firm to have foreign clients.  Hiring lobbyists is what both citizens and foreigners think they have to do to be heard in Washington.

The Keystone XL debate is not an equal contest

May 24, 2013
KeystoneXL_Lobbying

Double click to enlarge.

Tar sands crude oil (bitumen) is a corrosive mixture of sand, clay, water and crude oil which can be refined into useful petroleum products.  It is produced in the Canadian province of Alberta, but Canadian provinces to the east and west don’t want it piped through their territories because of fears of pipe ruptures and environmental damage.  Instead tar sands crude is piped southward through the Great Plains to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas.   There have been two pipeline ruptures already this year in the USA, in Michigan and in Arkansas

In order to be economically feasible, TransCanada, the major tar sands producer, wants to expand the pipelines crossing the USA and build supplemental pipelines.  Part of the project involves a new border crossing, which is subject to approval or disapproval by President Obama.  The President hasn’t made his decision yet, but the U.S. State Department issued a favorable report on the project.

Click on Keystone XL Pipeline | StateImpact Texas for background information.

Click on Keystone: What We Know for a report on the Keystone XL opposition by Bill McKibben.

Source of the infographic: United Republic.

Our corrupt politics: Is money the problem?

March 16, 2012

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein says the influence of big money in politics is exaggerated.  He wrote an article in the current New York Review of Books arguing that powerful lobbyists may shape legislation, but it is populist partisan politics that determines whether the legislation is enacted.  People whose main concern is money and profit are generally more reasonable and open to compromise than grass-roots zealots, he wrote; grass-roots partisan extremism is a much more serious problem.

In 2011, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO joined together to call for a major reinvestment in American infrastructure.  None passed.  In 2010, most of the health care industry was either supportive or neutral on the Affordable Care Act, and if any one of them could have swung the votes of even a few Republican senators or congressmen, the desperate Democrats would have let them write almost anything they wanted into the bill.  But not one Republican budged.  In 2009, the Chamber of Commerce endorsed the stimulus bill as a necessary boost to the economy.  Not one House Republican voted for it. Almost every major business group has been calling for tax reform and a big, Simpson-Bowles-like deficit reduction package for years now. But Congress remains deadlocked.

Ezra Klein

Indeed, the more likely Americans are to have actually heard of the bill, the less likely money is to be the decisive factor in its fate.  That’s not to say that lobbyists and interest groups don’t have a hand in the construction of these laws—before they came to a vote—and don’t have a say in the component parts.  They do.  The health care industry, for instance, was able to cut a slew of early deals with the Obama administration; and the industry’s power helped put out of consideration certain provisions, like a public option that would have partnered with Medicare to bargain down prices.  The financial industry, disgraced as it was, managed to win a lot of battles in the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill.

But in the end, it didn’t decide which votes ended up in the “nay” column and which ended up in the “aye” column.  The leadership of the two parties did.  Which is to say that while moneyed interests are decisive in passing laws and influencing provisions that few Americans care about, they’re much weaker on the issues where Americans are actually watching.  But those issues are the ones that have convinced America that Washington is broken.  Which suggests that as big a problem as money is in politics—and make no mistake, it is a big problem, as the rise of the Super PACs shows all too clearly—it is not the only one, and it is probably not even the worst one.

via The New York Review of Books.

When President Obama sought to enact health care reform, he first promised the drug companies that nothing would be done to lower drug prices, and the health insurance companies that they would not be crowded out of the market by a public option, but that instead they would get a new captive clientele.  Klein is right that the drug and health insurance companies did not determine the outcome; they only determined that, no matter what the outcome, their vital interests would not be threatened.  The same is true of Wall Street and the Dodd-Frank bill.

The monied interests do not determine the outcome of the game; they determine something much more important, the stakes of the game.

The hot-button issues that stir up the public—such as whether it is okay to call an attractive young single woman who uses contraception a “slut” or a “prostitute”—are almost never issues that affect the structure of economic and political power.

What we are drifting toward is a politics in which the right is defined by the Koch brothers, Richard Scaife and Adolph Coors, the “left” by George Soros and rich Hollywood movie stars, firms like Goldman Sachs have a foot in both camps and people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett represent the vital center.  We need a politics that offers more options than those.

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Newt Gingrich, gridlock and “pay to play”

January 28, 2012

Newt Gingrich created the “pay to play” system by which House of Representatives committee assignments and leadership positions hinge on their ability to raise money for the party.  And he also is as responsible as anyone for the partisan divisions that keep the legislative process in gridlock.

Political scientist Tom Ferguson tells the story.

In the mid-1980s, a group of insurgent Republicans broke with the long established norms governing how the U.S. House of Representatives transacted business.  Led by Newt Gingrich, it derided older Republican House leaders as timid, unimaginative, and too inclined to compromise with Democrats.  Self-styled “revolutionaries” launched vigorous public attacks on Democrats as they trumpeted their own agenda of deregulation, budget cuts, lower taxes, and a baker’s dozen of social issues, from abortion to opposition to all forms of gun control.

Result?  The House boiled over.  Statistical measures of Congressional behavior show that party line votes jumped sharply.

Gingrich and his allies were painfully aware that transforming the GOP’s gains at the presidential level into a true “critical realignment” of the political system as a whole required breaking the Democratic lock on Congress.  So they shattered all records for Congressional fundraising in their drive to get control of the House.  Their success in this and their parallel campaign to rally major parts of the media to their standard are what polarized the system.  The GOP insurgents emphasized fundraising, not just through the usual publicly reported vehicles like the national party committees, but also GOPAC, a political action committee that Gingrich had controlled since 1986, which operated mostly in secret.

In 1992, in the midst of a recession, the Republicans lost the White House. But their dreams of a sweeping political realignment did not die.  In fact, by clearing centrist Republicans out of their perches in the White House, the loss probably helped Gingrich and his allies.

Completely undaunted, Gingrich, Republican National Chair Haley Barbour, and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Phil Gramm orchestrated a vast national campaign to recapture Congress for the Republicans in the 1994 elections.  With the economy stuck in a “jobless recovery” and Democratic fundraising sputtering, the Republicans won control of both houses of Congress.

The tidal wave of political money they conjured allowed Gingrich, Gramm, Barbour and Co., to brush aside older, less combative center-right Republican leaders and persist in their efforts to roll back the New Deal and remake American society in the image of free market fundamentalism.  Once in power, the Republicans institutionalized sweeping rules changes in the House and the Republican caucus that vastly increased the leadership’s influence over House legislation.  They also implemented a formal “pay to play” system that had both inside and outside components.

On the outside, DeLay and other GOP leaders, including Grover Norquist, who headed Americans for Tax Reform, mounted a vast campaign (the so-called “K Street Project”) to defund the Democrats directly by pressuring businesses to cut off donations and avoid retaining Democrats as lobbyists. Inside the House, Gingrich made fundraising for the party a requirement for choice committee assignments. Senate Republicans, led by Phil Gramm and other apostles of deregulation, emulated the House.

And so, alas, did the Democrats.

Click on Standstill Nation as the New Abnormal for Tom Ferguson’s full article for the Roosevelt Institute.

Click on Our Polarized and Money-Driven Congress: Created Over 25 Years by Republicans (And Quickly Imitated by Democrats) for more on Gingrich’s legacy on the Naked Capitalism web log.

Click on Newt Gingrich and Our Dysfunctional Congress for an article on Gingrich’s legacy by Lou Dubose of The Washington Spectator.

Click on Newt Gingrich Is a Saul Alinsky Republican for an analysis of Newt Gingrich’s political tactics from the Washington Examiner.

Click on Language: a Key Mechanism of Control for Newt Gingrich’s 1996 GOPAC Memo on political rhetoric.

What to do about a Congress for sale

November 14, 2011

No recession for Washington lobbyists

April 26, 2011

This chart originally appeared in Time magazine.

Hat tip to Barry Ritholtz.

Outsourcing legislation to lobbyists

February 4, 2011

The phrase “regulatory capture” refers to the unfortunate tendency of regulatory agencies to be taken over by the industries they regulate.  An extreme example of this was the Minerals Management Service, which was supposed to regulate oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but which allowed BP to ignore federal safety regulations.

Darrell Issa

We need another phrase – “legislative capture,” perhaps – for Rep. Darrell Issa, the incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  He has written to more than 150 lobbyists, trade associations and corporations asking them for their legislative wish lists.

Click on Darrell Issa asks business: Tell me what to change for a report in Politico on Issa’s request.

Click on Issa response letters for a report by ThinkProgress on the answers he got.

Hat tip to Hullabaloo.