If only George W. Bush were content to merely market nights in the Lincoln Bedroom or issue some questionable pardons, the public would be much better off. But no, the new President has taken the art of selling White House access to an unprecedented level, with disastrous consequences for millions of Americans.
While the media remain obsessed with trying to prove that the Clinton Administration was on the take from corrupt fat cats, the Republicans have unashamedly turned over the federal government to the very corporations that purchased the dubious Bush electoral victory.
MBNA, the world’s biggest credit card dispenser, which hooks your kids with teaser rates that can quickly balloon to usurious proportions, is about to get the bill ending bankruptcy protection for little people that it had in mind when it led the Bush campaign contributor list.
The big corporate givers are all lined up with wish lists in hand. “There is no longer any countervailing power in Washington; business is in complete control of the machinery of government,” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich concluded recently.
In less than two months, the Administration has reversed workplace protection for repetitive stress injury, betrayed Bush’s campaign promise to curtail industry carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming and revved up plans for Arctic drilling. For all of his belief in a free market, the President used the club of the state to force mechanics at Northwest Airlines back to work.
Not that congressional Democrats are without blame. As the bipartisan support for the bankruptcy bill demonstrated, corporate contributions are as compelling as they are pervasive.
Bush has indicated he’s eager to sign this atrocious bill–an identical measure was vetoed by President Clinton–which strips away a century of protection for small debtors. No longer will holders of unsecured debt, who average $22,000 a year in income, be given a fresh start. Under this bill, such debtors who file for bankruptcy will not have their debt eliminated under the easy-to-use Chapter 7 protection of the Bankruptcy Code but will be forced to file a repayment plan under the more rigorous Chapter 13. That places this unsecured debt on the same level as all other claims requiring payment, such as child support and alimony, leaving divorced spouses and their children competing with banks for a claimant’s paycheck.
At the same time, Congressional Republicans refused to accept any amendments restraining the marketing of credit cards or the regulating of usurious interests rates charged. These largely unscrupulous banking practices that prey upon the young and gullible, with billions of mailed solicitations a year, is what often leads people into bankruptcy.
What in God’s name is going on? The Bible warns against these money handler who charge usurious rates: “Let the exacting of usury stop” is commanded in Nehemiah, where the word “usury” is applied to loans among Israelites bearing a mere 1 percent interest. On a more secular note, the California Constitution had placed a 10 percent limit on interest, but that has been watered down by court decisions.
By those historical standards, the current average charge of 18 percent on credit cards, often rising more than 24 percent, certainly qualifies as “exorbitant,” to use Webster’s definition of usury. Indeed, the common practice of the banks would seem to fall under the category of criminal loan-sharking, but just try to find a prosecutor with the guts to classify a leading bank as organized crime.
The analogy with loan-sharking is valid, given that both credit card companies and gangsters loan money to people who have no means of repayment. The gangsters compel repayment with the threat of physical force, and banks will now have the legal intimidation of the courts.
Because Clinton vetoed this legislation, the banking industry weighed in heavily for Bush in the last election. MBNA employees accounted for $240,000 in donations to Bush, compared to $1,500 to Al Gore. The bank’s chairman hosted a $1,000-a-plate dinner for Bush, and the bank contributed a nifty $100,000 to the Bush inaugural festivities.
Financial institutions, which gave Republicans $26 million in the last election, have been rewarded with quick passage of the bankruptcy bill that Clinton rejected. The big difference this time around is that Bush has already stated that he will sign the bill, so there is no pressure on Congress to build in even the most minor consumer protections.
This year alone, a million Americans, many of them young people suckered into financing their education by maxing out their credit cards, will attempt to use the bankruptcy court as a second chance, only to find the door closed. They should thank Bush the next time an election rolls around.