Politicians, pundits, and citizens have long bemoaned the power that “special interests” wield in Washington, D.C. and state capitals across the nation. The pharmaceutical, energy, and defense industries and everyone in between employ armies of lobbyists to educate elected officials on their respective industry interests and to persuade them to protect said interests. Other groups represent the concerns of a body of constituents, such as general taxpayer, second amendment, or pro-life groups.
Despite the soiling of the term “lobbyist,” particularly following the fall of Jack Abramoff, these activities are protected under the First Amendment – and rightfully so. If it weren’t for second amendment groups, Chicago, where I currently dwell, would not have a powerful coalition challenging the city’s irrational, unconstitutional handgun ban in the Supreme Court. The majority of Americans own stock – stock in corporations. In today’s legislative environment, corporations would do a disservice to their shareholders not to go to bat for their interests in the Beltway ball game.
It is the existence of this game, and the fact that it is necessary, that frustrates many Americans. The ability of legislators and bureaucrats to change the rules of the game as it is played breeds a cutthroat culture of cloakroom deals. Too often this doesn’t merely ensure fair treatment of certain interests, it secures beneficial legislative loopholes for the interest with the best lobbyists and unfair treatment for their competitors. More often than not, this is done to the detriment of small business owners, taxpayers, and consumers alike.
Tim Carney is the lobbying editor of The Washington Examiner and author of the new book Obamanomics. His investigative reporting on the pages of the Examiner regularly digs below the surface of well-known stories like the cash for clunkers boondoggle to reveal the Beltway shenanigans that enables and produces such common-sense defying policies. In the case of cash for clunkers, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York pushed relentlessly for an increased handout for the middle class car subsidy program. As Carney reported, it just so happens that Schumer’s state is home to a large steel company that would benefit tremendously from an influx in the cheap scrap metal that the clunkers program was sure to create. This is a typical example of corporatism, or the profitable nexus of Big Business and Big Government.
Obamanomics reads like an encyclopedia of corporatism in the age of Obama. As Carney shows, the game’s popularity has increased exponentially under the administration that promised to be the most transparent in history – and cash for clunkers is just one example. Obama has stacked his administration with industry insiders, political operatives, and former lobbyists – all pros in the game of corporatism.
Take Obama’s choice for Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. Writes Carney, “If a Hollywood screenwriter were to invent the prototypical ruthless political operative, he would create Rahm Emanuel – and the producers would probably reject the character as over-the-top.” Carney cites a 2003 Chicago Tribune article describing Emanuel as “A portrait of the often murky, below-the-surface intersection of money and politics.” As Carney puts it “The Obama-Emanuel White House has governed by standing at this intersection, collecting tolls, and paying out favors – and it’s building more entrance ramps into this intersection and multiplying its own power, all of which yields rewards for the most connected businesses.”
Thoroughly researched with Carney’s typical muckraking fervor, Obamanomics shows that these behind-the-scenes alliances are often between players one would not expect to cooperate. In fact, allegiances are often the exact opposite of what politicians say and the media reports. Republicans are typically maligned as the heartless party of Big Business while Democrats couch themselves as looking out for the little guy (their justification for the constant expansion of Big Government). More often than not, however, Big Business finds itself cozying up with Big Government with Democrats at the reigns. This relationship often leaves the taxpayer out in the cold.
Take the health care debate. Those on the Left, including President Obama, have cited insurance and pharmaceutical companies time and time again as the main opponents of health care reform. Keith Olbermann asserted, “the insurance lobby owns the Republican Party.” As Carney reveals, it is Democrats, not Republicans, that have raked in the most dough from these corporate interests: “In the 2008 election cycle, employees and executives at HMOs gave $5.7 million to Republicans, but $8.6 million to Democrats.” In the nursing home and hospital sector, Obama brought in over $3 million, “more than four times what McCain brought in and 50 percent more than what George W. Bush raised from these companies in both his elections combined.”
What’s more, the leaders of these industry groups have enjoyed unprecedented access to the Obama White House. Insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists have met numerous times in the West Wing with the Obama administration. As Carney notes, these discussions were closed-door meetings, not on CSPAN as Obama promised on the campaign trail. Interestingly, the administration attempted suppressing Freedom of Information Act requests as to the attendees at said meetings. Many journalists have written such discussions off as the industries merely wanting “a seat at the table.” Both pharmaceutical and insurance companies stand to reap significant profits under ObamaCare. For example, an individual mandate, a likely component of health insurance “reform,” would increase their respective customer bases significantly. As Carney puts it, these industries don’t just have a seat at the table – many of them have found themselves to be the guests of honor.
The media often writes-off these examples of collusion as “peculiar alliances.” Yet examples abound in today’s prominent policy battles. The Big Government Left constantly demonizes Big Business on television, only to turn around and buddy up with them at fundraisers and over closed-door legislative drafting sessions. Carney covers the gambit from energy companies lobbying for cap and trade to the bailouts of labor unions and Wall Street fat cats in the name of “saving main street.”
What’s a concerned citizen to do? Writes Carney, “The appropriate response to Obamanomics is a consistent rejection of government as a solution to our problems. But it is also a clear-throated attack on the misdeeds of Big Business…frankly, Big Business is not the friend of limited government and low taxes.”
As Carney states, “it’s time to grab the pitchforks.” Consider arming the tea partier on your shopping list this holiday season with a copy of Obamanomics. Carney names the special interest moochers and their political enablers and offers some great insight into reforming the system that they prop up to benefit from the labor of hard-working Americans. In the age of Obama, it’s a must-read.