MOLLY IVINS BIDNESS AS USUAL As a serious fan of the perfect and utter weirdness of the GOP congressional freshmen, I am reminded of an Ann Richards observation concerning the decline of values in this country. “There was a time in this great country,” said Annie, “when the word crackpot really meant something.” Now, setting aside your more notorious freshman crackpots, like Helen Chenoweth of Idaho and Texas’ own Steve Stockman consider the more pedestrian freshman crackpots. Here’s an earnest individual named Sam Brownback from Kansas repeating my favorite GOP freshman theme. Of the GOP budget, he said to The Wall Street Journal: “It’s real change, though not near as much as it should be. The old culture has not passed away.” He refers to the oft-declared freshman desire to “change the way Washington does business” or to “change the culture of Washington.” To anyone but a GOP freshman, the notion that the Republican budget represents “a real change in the way Washington does business” is enough to set off howls of mirth. Or howls of something. In the very same Wall Street Journal, we find a handy round-up on the latest special tax favors for corporations included in the bill that is supposed to “change the way Washington does business.” Gosh, how different. Congratulations to Xilinx Inc., Sierra Semiconductor Corp., and Sequent Computer Systems Inc., for their successful lobbying of Representative Bill Archer, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. A special extension of the twenty percent business research credit to companies formed in 1984 and 1985 includes our three lucky friends and no others that the Journal could find. Well done. And it’s happy days for such research consortia as the Gas Research Institute, the Electric Power Research Institute and the Aerospace Industries Association; seventyfive percent of their research expenses are now eligible for the tax break, up from the measly sixty-five percent of yesteryear. And congratulations to another happy winner, Amgen Inc., which finagled a truly estimable exception to new rules phasing out tax breaks for companies that do business in Puerto Rico. God forbid that we should subsidize college education or the care of old folks. We’ve got to subsidize the tobacco industry, which spreads such joy in our land. We’ve got to save the sugar subsidy, the farm subsidies, the ethanol subsidy and Archer-Daniels-Midland’s yearly fivehundred-million-dollar tax break. Boy, have these Republicans changed the way Washington does business. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, federal subsidies and tax breaks for business will be reduced by six billion dollars during the next seven years. Compare that with the four hundred billion dollars in cuts to social and welfare programs during the same period. On average, most government programs are targeted for a seventeen percent decrease in funding, to balance the budget by 2002. But sixty corporate subsidy programs will decrease by less than one percent. One of my favorite “no-more-businessas-usual” tales involves House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a practically unknown Indiana insurance company called, happily enough, Golden Rule Insurance. The conis now embedded in the House and Senate versions of Medicare “reform,” and Golden Rule is one of the leading sellers of individual health insurance in the country. According to Associated Press writer Jim Drinkard, in theory an MSA provides health insurance with a high deductible for example, three thousand dollarsbut a lower premium. The money saved on the premium then goes into an account that can be used to pay health bills that fall below the deductible. Federal tax breaks make the money going into the MSA account and the interest that it earns tax-deductible. Including MSAs in the Medicare “reform” will cost Americans 2.8 billion dollars during the next seven years. According to Drinkard, Golden Rule and its executives have spread nearly 1.3 million dollars around Washington in direct campaign gifts, “soft money” to political parties, and help on lawmakers’ pet projects. More than three-fourths of the money went to Republicans. Golden Rule is one of Gingrich’s biggest monetary supporters. The company gave one hundred seventeen thousand dollars to GOPAC, Gingrich’s political action committee, and an undisclosed sum to Gingrich’s Progress and Freedom Foundation, which underwrites Gingrich’s television course. Its employees also gave thirty-nine thousand, five hundred and ten dollars to his own campaigns. Gingrich has boosted MSAs in his course and a book. But according to Drinkard, Golden Rule is under fire for “cherry-picking” healthy clients to maximize its profits and using strong-arm tactics on policy-holders, state regulators and state legislators. Golden Rule has hired more than a dozen lobbying firms since 1990 to push its agenda; its lobbyists have studies showing that MSAs will result in huge health-care savings. But the studies were done by a small think tank, the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, which itself receives an undisclosed sum from Golden Rule. How unusual. STICKS AND STONES As they say on the playgrounds, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” can be used to disguise sticks and stones, but the sticks and stones will still hurt you. The word that Republicans will not userather like the Man Whose Name We Must Never Say \(a pop-culture way of referring to the Tony Blankley, press secretary for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said, “If you use the word ‘cut,’ that’s all people see. It triggers an automatic response.” His protest came in reaction to a question used in a CBS/New York Times poll: “If you had to choose, would you prefer balancing the federal budget or preventing Medicare from being significantly cut?” The House Republicans have cut two hundred seventy billion dollars from Medicare. That is the stick, the stone, and the fact of the matter. Gingrich, who is given to using a sledgehammer where a fly swatter will do, said: “This poll is a disgraceful example of disinformation. What we get are deliberately rigged questions that are totally phony that come out the morning of the vote.” The Republican concern about using the dreaded word “cut” in relation to Medicare goes back at least to June, when pollster Frank Luntzwhose research shaped the Contract With Americacirculated an eight-page memo among Republicans called “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Communicating Medicare.” I found it quoted by Sidney Blumenthal in the September 25 New Yorker: “Luntz warned that older voters would never accept changes in Medicare until they were `convinced the system’s going broke….If we can’t prove Medicare is going bankrupt, we’ll never be able to sell our solution.'” Luntz’s memo details how to scare seniors to death about Medicare. He also advised Republicans to accuse Democrats of “using `scare tactics’ by allowing the program to go Molly Ivins is a former Observer editor and a columnist for the Fort Worth StarTelegram. 14 NOVEMBER 17, 1995
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