Same Old Pork While Nation Languishes
for 24-Hours of Propaganda
"Now, we've got money for everyone in here, right? We didn't leave anyone out, right?"
Congressional deal-brookers slopped a mess of pork into the $700 billion financial rescue bill passed by the House today - including a tax break for makers of kids' wooden arrows - in a bid to lure reluctant lawmakers into voting for the package
Stuffed into the 451- page bill are more than $1.7 billion worth of targeted tax breaks to be doled out for a sty full of eyebrow-raising purposes over the next decade.
The $700 billion package was sailing into a stiff political wind. Constituent opposition to any sort of rescue has been strong and vocal - and lawmakers have been running scared while shocking extremes in stock trading has wiped out many American's investment portfolios.
"This is how Washington works," said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington research group. "A big pot of pork is their recipe for final passage."
The special provisions include tax breaks for Manufacturers of kids' wooden arrows ($6 million), Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands rum producers($192 million), Wool research, Auto-racing tracks ($128 million), Corporations operating in American Samoa ($33 million), and perhaps most surprisingly Small- to medium-budget film and television productions ($10 million)
Another measure inserted into the bill appears to be a bald-faced bid aimed at winning the support of Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who voted against the original version when it went down in flames in the House on Monday.
That provision - a $223 million package of tax benefits for fishermen and others whose livelihoods suffered as a result of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill - has been the subject of fervent lobbying by Alaska's congressional delegation.
"The most important thing is that we need to bail out our friends on Wall Street and in banking and the insurance business. Normal, every day American's will feel the effect of the rich getting richer again soon enough."
Some of the pork-barrel measures buried in the financial rescue package had been contained in a bill that previously passed the Senate, but died in the House.
The Congressional Budget Office said the package of breaks - including obvious pork and some more defensible tax-relief measures - will add about $112 billion to budget deficits over the next five years because the bill doesn't contain enough offsetting revenue hikes to keep the budget balanced.
The legislative lard annoyed Tom Schatz, president of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.
"There's always something that goes on at the end where the last dozen members are trying to get something for themselves or for a special interest rather than what might be good for the country," Schatz said.
Some of the other measures added to win approval include a $3.8 billion health-care provision that forces insurance companies to provide coverage for mental-health treatment equivalent to the coverage they provide for physical illness.
Other add-ons will increase individual tax credits and help shield some Americans from the painful alternative minimum tax, and offer breaks for businesses that invest in alternative fuels.
Also, several federal income-tax breaks due to expire will now be extended through 2009.
"We all know that we are in the midst of a financial crisis," House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, said shortly before casting his vote for government intervention in private capital markets that was unthinkable only a month ago.
"And we know that if we do nothing, this crisis is likely to worsen and to put us into an economic slump like most of us have never seen."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill was needed to "Begin to shape the financial stability of our country and the economic security of our people."
Stocks were up on Wall Street, where there was a lot of anticipation of the vote but where investors also were buffeted by a bad report on the job market. The Labor Department said employers slashed 159,000 jobs in September, the largest cut in five years and further evidence of a sinking economy.
Even before the measure cleared Congress, the White House sought to dampen optimism of its immediate impact on the economy. "This legislation is to fix a problem in our financial markets," said spokesman Tony Fratto. "It's not sold as giving a boost to the economy, but rather preventing a crisis in our economy... If it works as we hope it will, credit will be able to begin flowing again."
The House vote marked a sharp change from Monday, when an earlier measure was sent down to defeat, largely at the hands of angry conservative Republicans.
"It will take time for this bill to have an impact," President George W. Bush said in a speech outside the Oval Office, "it will be done as expeditiously as possible, but it won't be overnight."
"If we don't give $192 million to the Puerto Rican Rum Manufacturers they will surely succomb to the market. We can't let that happen! Capitolism has become the race to save your friends and cronies, not the survival of the fittest all you dumb citizens thought."