By Molly Ivins
AUSTIN, Texas—We need to keep up with the daily drip, that endless succession of special favors for special interests performed by Congress, or we’ll never figure out how we got so far behind the eight ball. While the top Bushies lunge about test-driving new wars (great idea—the one we’re having is a bummer, so let’s start another!), Congress just keeps right on cranking out those corporate goodies.
Earlier this month, the House effectively repealed more than 200 state food safety and public health protections. Say, when was the last time you enjoyed a little touch of food poisoning? Coming soon to a stomach near you. What was really impressive about HR 4167, the “National Uniformity for Food Act,” is that it was passed without a public hearing.
“The House is trampling crucial health safeguards in every state without so much as a single public hearing,” said Erik Olson, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This just proves the old adage, ‘Money talks.’ The food industry spared no expense to ensure passage.”
Thirty-nine attorneys general, plus health, consumer and environmental groups, are opposing the law. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the food industry has spent more than $81 million on campaign contributions to members of Congress since 2000.
The bill would automatically override any state measure that is stronger than federal law, the opposite of what a sensible law would do. The NRDC says state laws protecting consumers from chemical additives, bacteria and ingredients that can trigger allergic reactions would be barred, and that includes alerts about chemical contamination in fish, health protection standards for milk and eggs, and warnings about chemicals or toxins such as arsenic, mercury and lead. Happy eating, all.
Here’s another little gem, one of those “it was after midnight and everyone wanted to go home” deals. Just a no-cost sweetener to encourage oil and gas companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico—and who needs more encouragement these days than the oil companies? The poor things are making hardly any money at all. Just have the federal government waive the royalty rights for drilling in the publicly owned waters. Turns out this waiver will cost the government at least $7 billion over the next five years.
I roared with laughter upon reading that Texas Rep. Joe Barton had assured his colleagues the provision of the energy bill was “so non-controversial” that senior House and Senate negotiators had not even discussed it. That’s one of the oldest ploys in the Texas handbook of sneaky tricks and has been successfully used to pass many a sweet deal for the oil industry.
“The big lie about this whole program is that it doesn’t cost anything,” Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey told The New York Times. “Taxpayers are being asked to provide huge subsidies to oil companies to produce oil—it’s like subsidizing a fish to swim.”
Then there are daily drips so strange it’s hard to tell if members of Congress are clear on what they’re doing. You may have heard that more and more corporations are backing out of their pension obligations and dumping the responsibility on an under-funded federal agency.
So the push is on to get companies to pony up for the pension agency. According to the Financial Times: “Employers will be able to slash their contributions to under-funded pension schemes by tens of billions of dollars over the next five years under proposed legislation before Congress that was expected to have the opposite effect. The legislation was proposed by the White House last year to lessen the risk of a taxpayer bailout of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a federal safety net for pension schemes.”
Brilliant. Anyone know how the White House went from protecting the Benefit Guaranty Corp. to slashing corporate contributions by tens of billions? Did they send Michael “Brownie” Brown to do the job?
editor’s note: At the author’s request, a quote by Abraham Lincoln has been removed from the end of this column due to its questionable authenticity.