Parliament of Whores

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The Pork Barrel

From In These Times, July, 11,2006, the month liberal, pro labor news publication.


Legislating Under the Influence

Up close and personal with the House Appropriations Committee     By David Sirota


David Sirota is the co-chairperson of the Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN) and a Senior Editor at In These Times. He also writes for Working Assets, and is a twice-a-week guest on "The Al Franken Show." His new book Hostile Takeover was published by Random House's Crown Publishers.

When I was hired to work on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee in 2001, I was told by many in Washington that the panel was one of last remaining places in Congress where things actually get done. By the time I left Capitol Hill some two and a half years later, I had learned what all Americans are now realizing: The panel certainly does get things done, but not for the people who elected its members. It gets things done almost exclusively for those lobbyists and corporate interests that buy influence through campaign contributions. The committee has become, in short, the breeding ground of congressional corruption.

Over the last year, the public has learned exactly how lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee have abused the incredible power granted to them as overseers of how the federal government spends tens of billions of dollars.

And the power is incredible. As chief spokesman for Democrats on this committee, I had a firsthand view of how this panel has been abused by the Republicans. Tens of millions of dollars move from one district to another for purely political reasons--all with the quick stroke of a pen behind closed doors. One line anonymously inserted in a thousand-page bill can mean the difference between the creation or elimination of national consumer regulations bought and paid for by industry campaign donors.  The loudest protests from the most passionate members of both parties can be silenced on the floor of the House with a mere scowl from one of the Appropriations subcommittee chairmen. At a moment’s notice these “cardinals,” as they are known, will remove the protester’s pet projects unless they stop criticizing whatever heinous provisions were attached to the spending bill being debated.

Such power was bound to be abused in the current Congress, where the concepts of restraint or law-abiding behavior are treated as punchlines. First, in March, came the conviction of senior appropriator Duke Cunningham. The California Republican steered millions of dollars of federal contracts to the same company that paid him more than $2 million in bribes.

When Cunningham was forced to resign, Congress replaced him with Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Already under indictment for money laundering, DeLay is also at the center of the pay-to-play scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff—the convicted Republican lobbyist who tried to buy off members of the Appropriations Committee on behalf of his clients. DeLay, who had previously served on the Appropriations Committee before stepping down to become Majority Leader, was a close associate of Abramoff’s. He took lavish trips paid for by lobbyists with interests before the committee and pocketed campaign cash from Abramoff and his associates.

But DeLay is not alone. Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), has received tens of thousands of dollars from Abramoff and his clients, while using Abramoff’s D.C. restaurant as a venue for fundraising parties. Additionally, Doolittle is among three members of the committee who accepted a combined $200,000 from the defense contractor, MZM, the corporation at the center of the Cunningham bribery conviction.

And consider committee chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.). The Washington Post reported in May that he is now officially a target of a federal law enforcement investigation. He steered “hundreds of millions of dollars in federal projects for clients of one of his closest friends, lobbyist and former state Congressman Bill Lowery,” according to the San Diego Union Tribune. In exchange, “Lowery, the partners at his firm and their clients have donated 37 percent of the $1.3 million that Lewis’ political action committee received in the past six years.”

Lewis is not the only lawmaker whose behavior on the committee has caught the attention of federal investigators. Joining the chairman is Democratic appropriator Alan Mollohan (W.V.). The Washington Post reports that he “used his seat on the House Appropriations Committee to secure more than $150 million for five nonprofit groups”—groups associated with the West Virginia congressman’s own business partners. During the very same time, Mollohan became a multi-millionaire.

This pay-to-play corruption on the appropriations committee extends to national security. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who heads the homeland security appropriations subcommittee, has diverted funds for making tamper-proof identification cards to “companies that are donors to his political causes,” according to the New York Times. Rogers has taken 11 trips paid for by an organization to which the congressman helped steer a no-bid contract, and even moved funds to a company that employs his son. The result of Rogers’ shenanigans has been a more than two-year delay in the production of the ID cards.

These examples are disturbing. But as I also learned in my time working for the Appropriations Committee, the most corrupt behaviors are often perfectly legal. As the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics notes, “The committee does not just provide funding for lucrative government contracts, but is also famous for inserting last-minute industry-backed provisions blocking regulatory actions.”

Appropriators, knowing the spending bills they write must pass in order to keep the government operating, slip provisions into these bills that prevent the government from enforcing already-passed laws. This corrupt practice is so well-honed, industry-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation have issued detailed reports instructing lawmakers on where they can most effectively use riders to do corporate favors. These riders are perfectly legal and profoundly damaging.

Consider what happened in the wake of Mad Cow scares, when Congress passed a law mandating country-of-origin labeling of meat. When it came time to implement the law, Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) used his chairmanship of the agriculture appropriations subcommittee to insert language into a spending bill to postpone the law indefinitely. He was rewarded for his efforts by tens of thousands of dollars of campaign cash from the food processing industry. Especially grateful was Tyson Foods, which in 2004 gave Bonilla its private jet so that he could fly to fundraisers all over the country.

Stemming the corruption emanating from the Appropriations Committee is no small task. Some have suggested prohibiting appropriators from earmarking federal money for specific projects. But that would merely move spending decisions out of Congress and into the executive branch, and not solve the problem. Unelected bureaucrats, not elected officials, would get to decide how money is spent—a clear affront to Congress’s constitutional power of the purse, and no guarantee that corporate interests would not simply shift their influence-buying operations to the White House.

Sunlight laws are a better first step. The root of the problem lies not in appropriators’ power, but in the use of secrecy to exercise that power. Right now, appropriators can slip earmarks or destructive regulatory riders into giant spending bills anonymously, meaning no threat of public embarrassment for those trying to abuse their power. Worse, the bills carrying these provisions—often thousands of pages long—can be brought to vote just hours after they are written, ensuring there is no time for scrutiny.

I remember late nights gulping down coffee, frantically leafing through finalized spending bills trying to answer lawmakers’ questions about what they would be voting on. The appropriations process, I learned, is purposely rigged. To remedy the situation, Congress must pass a new law that forces appropriators to put their names next to the provisions they sponsor and forces the Appropriations Committee to provide ample time for their bills to be scrutinized before they are passed into law.

The next logical step is for Congress to embrace a public financing system of elections—a concept being aggressively pushed by Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.), the House Democrats’ senior appropriator. America currently relies on a system of legalized bribery to elect our Congress. Lawmakers’ campaigns are funded by the corporate contributors, who then demand favors such as wasteful federal contracts in return. A public financing system of elections, such as the ones adopted by Arizona or Connecticut, would allow candidates to run for office without having to participate in this corrupt cycle, and without feeling the need to use their positions to reward campaign donors.  {Given the resistance to election reform, only a grass-roots movement for a Constitutional amendment will produce this result on a national level—jk}.

The House Appropriations Committee may seem like just another congressional panel, but it is not. It is the place that distinguishes America’s system of government from most others, because it is where democracy—not a sole executive or dictator—exerts control over the nation’s treasury. But like a disease afflicting a vital organ, corruption is eating away at this committee. Already, that corruption has destroyed the bipartisanship that used to ensure that the panel’s important work was handled seriously. And now, as that corruption spreads from the committee into the Congress as a whole, our entire system of democracy is under threat from a money-dominated political process gone mad. Unless Congress reforms the way this committee works, America can never hope to take back our government from the corporate interests that own our political process.






Another Pork Barrel, Private Contractors.

Los Angeles Times


Report blasts Bush administration on private contracts.  He promised while electioneering that there would be smaller government and reduced spending through the use of private companies.  Instead there has been an 86% increase in payments to private companies and at the same time an increase in the number of people working for the federal government--jk. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has greatly expanded the use of contracts with private companies to provide public goods and services even as the number of government employees has increased, a congressional report has found.  But the administration's tilt toward doing business with private companies has failed to bring promised savings and has been characterized by "waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement," according to the report released this week by Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee. Of particular concern, the report said, were contracts related to homeland security, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina recovery.

Waxman's report is described as the first comprehensive assessment of contracting under the Bush administration, which had vowed upon taking office in January 2001 to provide services more efficiently while reducing the size of government. It reveals an 86 percent increase in contracts with private businesses, from $203 billion in 2000 to $377.5 billion a year in 2005 — nearly double the growth of federal spending as a whole.  At the same time, federal payrolls also have grown: The government now has about 1,874,000 civilian employees, up from 1,738,000 five years ago.

'"Nearly 40 cents of every dollar appropriated goes to private contractors, which is a record level," Waxman said.  Yet, Waxman said, his biggest concern is not the growth in contracts, but the abuse of them.  Poor planning and weak oversight, the report said, have led to government overspending and corruption by companies that have padded their invoices, charged for services not provided and received award fees for jobs that were completed late.

In June of 06, the Republicans voted not to investigate or oversee the federal contractors in Iraq or Afghanistan—jk.




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If there lips are moving they are lying.  

The one thing you can be sure that they stand for, is to get elected.


If there lips are moving they are lying (said of politician)

To understand developments in our political system (both parties) one must understand the role of neoliberalism.  Any analysis which misses this connection is grossly inadequate.  (Neocons follow neoliberalism economic policies). 


We have an evil, evil system. Words such as imperialism, greed, corporate greed, neoliberalism, neoconservate, globalism, bought politicians, control of media are descriptive.   There are reasons why the labor movement has collapsed.  It is the politics of neoliberalism, an out growth of corporate greed.  Given how it opposes the public weal, we have devoted a section to expose just what neoliberalism is—a thing that the five corporations which own broadcasting will not do. 



Things have gotten worse, the hole the neocons has dug is much deeper.  The economic stats are worse than bad:  the trend is toward greater disparity of wealth and on top of that the U.S. is loaded with debt and imbalance of trade.  The debt can through fiscal austerity can be paid off (as some of it was under Clinton), but the trade imbalance will only grow due to the dismantling of are industrial base and the setting up of free trade agreements such as NAFTA.   The current foreign debt is equaled to over 70% of GDP, a ratio unmatched by far among industrialized nations.  To find out what economics is called the dismal science and the role of neoliberalism.