The predominant view in Washington right now is that the corporate reformers are in control.
President Bush’s Wall Street speech last week was a bomb, immediately discarded in Washington circles as containing proposals that were too weak to constitute serious reform.
The Senate has passed an accounting reform bill that actually contains provisions that would at least partially address some of the worst abuses of the Enron, WorldCom and other corporate scandals. Last week, it passed amendments that would strengthen criminal penalties for securities fraud, and that require company executives to take responsibility for the information appearing in their financial statements.
Conservative economist Jude Wanniski says the Senate is making “it a crime to do business in the United States.”
Representative Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, says “summary executions [for CEOs committing fraud] would get 85 votes in the Senate right now.”
Intel CEO Andy Grove complains in the Washington Post that he and other CEOs feel like “class aliens,” victims of “social stigma” and unfairly labeled “as a group of untrustworthy, venal individuals.”
Sometimes, the emotional peaks get so high in Washington that people lose their ability to think clearly. The microscopic, snapshot focus on a particular matter at a particular moment in time causes politicians and commentators alike to lose all perspective.
In fact, Congress and the Bush administration continue as never before to shower benefits and perquisites on Big Business.
Consider the president’s Wall Street speech and a follow up earlier this week in Alabama.
Bush reminded his audiences that he and the Congress “passed the biggest tax cut in a generation,” and urged that the 10-year tax cuts be made permanent. That tax cut dropped corporate tax payments to historic lows as a percentage of gross domestic product, and heaped more than half of its benefits on the richest 1 percent of the U.S. population.
Bush asked “Congress to join me to promote free trade” — meaning that Congress should support fast-track trade authority for negotiation of new trade deals, including one for all of North, Central and South America, modeled on NAFTA. Both houses of Congress have approved fast-track trade authority, but still have to reconcile their bills in a complicated process which may yet falter. Fast-track — which establishes in law the priority of commercial interests over health, safety, environmental and other citizen protections — is atop the Chamber of Commerce’s legislative wish list, and opposed by labor unions, environmentalists, consumer groups, human rights organizations and citizen groups.
Bush further requested the provision of terrorism insurance, which is by and large unneeded. The administration-favored plan would constitute a massive giveaway to the insurance industry, which would receive a giant subsidy from the federal government at no charge.
And it is not as if this administration and Congress have not already been exceedingly generous to Big Business.
Both houses have passed versions of an energy bill that will sweep aside the federal energy regulatory regime, freeing energy utilities to consolidate and enter other industries — an approach strikingly similar to the financial deregulation and integration that helped precipitate the current financial crisis.
The two major parties have engaged in a grotesque competition to pour more and more money into the Pentagon. An emergency supplemental appropriations bill lavished billions more onto a bloated defense budget that is approaching $400 billion annually. What a gift for Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.
Earlier this month, the Congress acted to enable plans to ship radioactive waste through towns and cities across the country, for disposal at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada. This deadly gamble — risking the accidental release of radioactive waste en route (prompting critics to call the scheme “Mobile Chernobyl”), or leakage into water supplies at Yucca Mountain — is vital to the hopes of the nuclear industry not just to continue, but to expand operations.
And the pending appropriations bills will shower on large corporations a wide array of subsidies and benefits totaling tens of billions of dollars.
Apocalyptic rhetoric notwithstanding, Washington continues to coddle the corporate elite. Only beginning with campaign contributions, the corrupting influence of corporate money and power seeps into every pore of Washington.
Washington policymakers by and large are not acting to restrain corporate abuses, they are continuing to aid and abet them.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and co-director of Essential Action. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999.
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman