Congress and the President went home this week with the President on a roll. President Bush noted that “we got a lot done.” The Republican spin machine cranked into full gear celebrating the President’s leadership and triumphs. This provides “verification that this is a governing party,” said House Republican whip Roy Blunt, with evident relief. But governing for what? What is apparent is that the more the President and the conservative majority in Congress win, the more the nation loses.
In the last week, Republicans voted in virtual lockstep for the following national priorities: (1) to give billions of taxpayer money to big oil companies, already wallowing in record profits, while doing nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil; (2) to extend to Central America the trade policies that have racked up the largest trade deficits in the annals of history; and (3) to weaken the cop on the corporate beat even as the corporate crime wave is still being uncovered. That’s in addition to the bridge to nowhere in Alaska and the dam over the dry creek in Mississippi that is business as usual in the Congress.
These triumphs trumpet the utter bankruptcy of Bush’s leadership and the right’s agenda. They insure the continued flow of corporate contributions to Republican coffers, even as they abandon the national interest. The 1,724-page energy bill, with corporate tax breaks of $14.5 billion over ten years, will admittedly do nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, redress global warming or even lower gas prices. We will pay a growing price for the President’s failure to lead a concerted national drive for energy independence, investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency that could lower our trade deficits, clean our air and create good jobs while capturing what must be the growing green markets of the future.
In contrast, the mislabeled Central American Free Trade Agreement is a bauble, important only for its symbolism. Its passage was purchased vote by vote with concessions and favors to opponents, in blatant, barely legal bribery. But the treaty only reaffirms the Administration’s purblind loyalty to the feckless trade policies that have made the United States the world’s largest debtor and now have us borrowing nearly $2 billion a day from foreign creditors to finance trade deficits that simply cannot be sustained. Everyone from Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan to the conservative economists of the International Monetary Fund agree that these unprecedented deficits are dangerous and destabilizing. We are in a deep hole, but in purchasing passage of CAFTA, the President and the Republican Congress have made clear that they intend to keep on digging.
Representative Christopher Cox was confirmed without a murmur by the Senate as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission after the President agreed to two nominees to Democratic seats on the commission. Business Week described corporate lobbyists as “almost giddy” at the prospect of Cox at the head of the SEC because Cox has devoted his career to shielding corporate executives from accountability. As an attorney, Cox was sued for touting a flimflam operator to regulators in a scam that ended up bilking small investors of some $130 million. As a legislator, Cox spearheaded the effort to pass the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which essentially gave corporate executives a “license to lie” about their stocks’ future prospects and sought to shield CEOs, their lawyers and accountants from investor lawsuits. Cox also championed leaving stock options off the corporate books, encouraging the very instrument that gave CEOs a personal stake in fixing the books so they could cash in. President Bush has made a man who contributed directly to the explosion of corporate fraud and abuse that cost investors trillions of dollars the chief cop on the corporate beat. With the heat turned down on corporate cons, small investors are likely to get burned.
The storm trooper discipline of the Republican Congress stands in stark contrast with the disarray that still marks the Democratic opposition. But the discipline of the Republican majority, however admirable, makes one thing clear. The default in leadership, the wrong-headed priorities, the growing corruption and abandonment of national purpose that characterizes the Administration and the right-wing Congressional majority will not be curbed by reasoned argument, appeals to alleged moderates, growing public skepticism or the Democratic minority. The country will continue to pay the cost of this folly until voters decide that they have had enough.