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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bring On 'Armageddon'

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WASHINGTON -- It will be "Armageddon," according to the speaker of the House of Representatives: This week, Congress takes up a bill to push corporate money out of U.S. politics.

Dennis Hastert, the Republican speaker, never wanted this bill. But the rank and file, including about 20 from his own party, signed a petition to force it to the floor. So last week, Hastert issued a stark warning to all Republicans: If this bill passes and curtails corporate campaign spending, we could lose control of the House. (A similar bill has passed the Senate, and President George W. Bush has made clear he ain't going to veto such a thing in the midst of the Enron mess).

Some progress is better than no progress, of course, but this bill alone will never do it. We are in a new Gilded Age, and money from corporations sets the agenda -- an agenda that boils down to give corporations more money. That this is happening despite Sept. 11 simply makes it more painful: To paraphrase the pro-campaign-reform web site howdarethey.org, while we have our hands on our hearts pledging allegiance to the flag, corporate lobbyists are picking our pockets. Consider:

The Republican leadership has been gnashing its teeth over the failure of its "economic stimulus" bill to help recession-wearied places like New York City. This bill was trumpeted as offering $574 million to New York to help deal with rising recession-related health costs -- but it turns out it would have also forced New York city to cut taxes to the tune of $1.2 billion, at a time when the city is already so strapped the new mayor is joking about letting a corporation pay to have City Hall named after it.

That same "economic stimulus" bill retroactively eliminated one corporate tax and so would have refunded to corporations $24 billion in past taxes. In general, the bill was so extreme that The New York Times reports, "when political consultants tried to get reactions from voter focus groups, the voters refused to believe that they were describing the bill accurately."

The Center for Public Integrity, a money-in-politics watchdog, reports that the Bush administration tried to slip language protecting the U.S. tobacco industry from foreign lawsuits into post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism legislation.

The Republican "energy plan" legislation would give $35 billion over 10 years as taxpayer giveaways to the oil, gas, coal and nuclear power industries. As The Washington Post noted, these giveaways are "unencumbered by any discernable logic."

Eight days after our national tragedy, on Sept. 19, Republican Frank Murkowski of Alaska took to the Senate floor to deny he was trying to tack an oil-drilling provision to an emergency defense bill. "That is certainly not the case," Murkowski said. "It would be inappropriate and in poor taste." But a few hours later, a Murkowski ally in the Senate tried to do just that. And by Sept. 24, Murkowski and Senate Majority Leader Tom DeLay, good taste be damned, were calling for a "Homeland Energy Security Act" to drill in the Alaskan national wildlife refuge. Ever since, Senate Republicans -- egged on by President Bush -- have tried to attach refuge-drilling amendments to bills on airline safety, on economic recovery, even on a railroad bill.

This is not a picture of a functioning democracy. An Armageddon for corporate political money can't come soon enough.

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, is a Washington-based fellow of The Nation Institute [www.thenation.com].