Yesterday’s “The Notion” blog, hosted by The Nation magazine’s online entity thenation.com, delved into the world of high-stakes lobbying in its piece “Who’s Paying the Super Committee?” Indeed, that seems like a very fair question. After all, if your government was going to choose 12 legislators out of 535, endow them with super-human powers such as the ability to recommend budget cuts that cannot be amended or deleted, and the heretofore unimaginable super power of getting a guaranteed up-or-down simple-majority vote in the Senate on your cuts, wouldn’t you want to know which lobbyists, and possibly even which clients, have staked out a financial position and own a piece of the action?
Because if you were a lobbyist, or if you were a high-end, cash-soaked corporate executive, and you heard that the Congress of the United States was going to agree to a process where they would fast-track legislation that essentially could not be debated, could not be altered, could not be scrutinized to any meaningful degree, you might–because you are a corporate executive and you think this way–try to influence the language in that legislation to benefit you and your corporation. After all, “corporations are people,” and we believe that all good people deserve success in life, right?
Now, I know what all of you conspiracy theorists and critics out there are going to say. You’ll say, “but wait, isn’t this whole Super Committee essentially a way to circumvent the typical legislative process? Isn’t this something akin to a Patriot Act for the debt ceiling, where in our moment of weakness (credit downgrade leaves us wondering who we are as a people… *sigh*) and national unity (we need to find a way to tighten our belts, and live within our means, you know, put America back on the track to fiscal sanity, because we never know when another downgrade may hit, and then we’ll be all the way down to AA! *gasp*) we agree to a whole bunch of things we would never agree to if we were thinking straight?” True. This is certainly possible. (See Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine for more on this phenomenon.) I agree it is fair game to suggest that the Super-Committee process is potentially being used in a nefarious way to “ram through” cuts that could never otherwise be accomplished; I will also agree that the Super-Committee process may be the “gun to the head” of Congress that will bring some compromise and action. (Recall that a refusal to accept the proposal of the Super-Committee, which in theory could include revenue rises, automatically triggers $1.5 trillion in cuts, taken equally from defense and non-defense discretionary spending.)
In any event, the purpose of this piece was to discuss the lobbyists and clients who have bought off–er, excuse me,–have “influenced” the members of the Super-Committee. These members, for those of you keeping score at home, are:
Reps. Dave Camp, Michigan, Jeb Hensarling, Texas, and Fred Upton, Michigan
Reps. James Clyburn, South Carolina, Chris Van Hollen, Maryland, and Xavier Becerra, California
Sens. John Kyl, Arizona, Rob Portman, Oregon, and Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania
Sens. John Kerry, Massachusetts, Max Baucus, Montana, Patty Murray, Washington
This elite club of Super-Congressmen, who include two Freshmen (Portman and Toomey), will shape the face of American domestic fiscal policy for generations to come between now and Thanksgiving. It appears that these Super-Heroes of American Politics may have already had their opinions shaped for them, in the form of PAC contributions and industry donations.
All told, the 12 members of the Super-Committee have hauled in around $200 million in PAC contributions and industry donations since 1998. Some of the largest contributions come from the Usual Suspects, including Labor, Health, Financial Services, and Lawyers. You may be surprised to hear that, generally speaking, these PACs and groups donated far more to the Democrats than the Republicans. Then again, this may not be surprising. Perhaps, just maybe, the Democrats’ price is a little higher.
So, as this process shakes out, and more and more pressure is put on these 12 people to cut a deal that will sell off America’s investment in its people (or not–the pressure to pass nothing and trigger the automatic cuts may be considerable high, especially if the compromise the Super-Committee reaches includes revenue rises), watch for the language that emerges. My hypothesis is that those with a financial stake in the outcome–those who have paid to have their voices heard–will be getting more and more of what they want. That’s when it becomes incumbent on the American People to push back, shine the light on the rat hole, and demand that all of us have our voices heard, not just those that pony up the cash.