Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Operation Corruption

Tom DeLay and the Republicans, shamed by DeLay’s comments that the federal budget was "pared down pretty good," have come forward with “Operation Offset” to propose a number of cuts to help pay for hurricane relief. The New York Times’ Carl Hulse covers it this morning, listing the following items as ones on the chopping block:

At the top of a partial list of the potential cuts being circulated on Tuesday were previously suggested ideas like delaying the start of the new Medicare prescription drug coverage for one year to save $31 billion and eliminating $25 billion in projects from the newly enacted transportation measure.

The list also proposed eliminating the Moon-Mars initiative that NASA announced on Monday, for $44 billion in savings; ending support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, $4 billion; cutting taxpayer payments for the national political conventions and the presidential election campaign fund, $600 million; and charging federal employees for parking, $1.54 billion.

What’s not on the list?

Before the list was made public, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader, declared that delaying the Medicare plan was a nonstarter. Mr. DeLay also expressed skepticism that most lawmakers would want to revisit the transportation bill, saying he would be reluctant to sacrifice the projects that he won for his district in the Houston area.

"My earmarks are pretty important to building an economy in that region," Mr. DeLay said of the local projects he backed in the bill. A watchdog group said those items totaled more than $114 million.

Mr. DeLay said Republicans would press ahead this year with their planned tax cuts, though Treasury Secretary John W. Snow told a trade association on Tuesday that some tax measures might have to be delayed, including a repeal of the estate tax and the effort to make permanent some cuts instituted earlier in the Bush administration.

Figures.

I predict that much of the fight over the next few weeks will center around two of these items: Republicans' use of the disaster to attempt to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, something they’ve fought for in good economic times and bad; and the fight over making Bush’s tax cuts permanent. These are important fights to win for the public interest.

Meanwhile, DeLay will see to it that NASA won’t get hurt too much – it is in his district, and with the Majority Leader facing the race of his life, he’s turned into a “bring home the bacon” congressman. So much so that he’s just earned Co-Porker of the Month from Citizens Against Government Waste.

The $114 million for his district won’t get touched either. Nor will the $1.5 billion giveaway in the energy bill that is likely to go to a consortium in DeLay’s district – a consortium of oil companies and research institutions, including Halliburton.

But what is still left on the chopping block is that thin veil of protection that keeps presidential elections and national conventions from being wholly-owned by wealthy interests – the $600 million for the presidential public financing system. Isn’t it amazing that with all we’re seeing in wake of Katrina – the cronyism run rampant, the arrest of a top Bush official for aiding lobbyists and foreign clients, the priorities of this Republican Congress to seek to protect tax cuts for the wealthy – the response of the Republicans is to propose an elimination of Watergate era reforms? Now, I’m not one to say that this presidential system is perfect. It’s far from it.

Yet, with the rampant corruption in this Congress – DeLay, Ney, and Cunningham examples leap to mind – shouldn’t we be looking to improve and expand our campaign finance laws along the lines of reform laws found in Maine, Arizona, Vermont, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Portland, Oregon?

By heading the opposite direction, the Republicans, should they succeed, will bring on another flood – this one of special interest money – in the 2008 elections.

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