My Latest

Friday, July 31, 2009

Big government gets in your food, hurts small farmers

With the House having just passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act, I dedicate my column today the history of Big Business and food safety regulation:
When Teddy Roosevelt instituted federal meat inspection, muckraker Upton Sinclair, whose book “The Jungle” spurred the push for meat regulation, wrote, “The Federal inspection of meat was, historically established at the packers’ request ... for the benefit of the packers.” The regulations “primarily affected their innumerable small competitors,” historian Gabriel Kolko wrote, and gave the big guys a virtual “government certificate on their goods,” as Sen. George Perkins described it.

Today, giant food producers (whose poor practices caused the scares of 2007 and 2008) again lead the push for food regulation, and many elements on the Left again see that the big guys are shaping the laws.

The big food processors, such as Kellogg, have lobbied for this bill, which would treat farms as “food production facilities,” subject them to inspections, and saddle them with reporting and record-keeping requirements.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How industry kidnapped Obama’s health ‘reform’

We still have a long way to go before Congress passes health-care "reform," but I look the landscape in today's column and conclude Big Business is winning:
A liberal Democratic president with a supermajority in the U.S. Senate and a massive majority in the U.S. House is on the road to passing a health care “reform” bill shaped by health maintenance organizations, drugmakers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, funded in part by a middle-class tax hike.
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama, the drugmakers, profit and ‘reform’

Who's benefiting from Obama's health-care "reform"? My column digs into that question.

The homepage of warned Tuesday, “For those who fight reform in order to profit financially or politically from the status quo, the president sends a simple message: ‘Not this time.’”

But what about those who lobby in favor of “reform” in order to profit financially from new subsidies, mandates and regulations? Seemingly, the president says, “You’re in luck!”

The pharmaceutical industry, which gave $3.58 to Obama for every $1 to Sen. John McCain in last year’s presidential race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has spent more on lobbying in the Obama era — $78 million so far this year — than any other industry.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When conservatives go gaga over Big Business

Last week, we saw an unpleasant flap regarding the American Conservative Union and a lobbying effort by FedEx. My column today rebuts some of the Politico's claims but shows how the story points to a deeper problem in the conservative movement and the GOP.

On health care, why are Republicans and conservatives most vehemently battling the government insurance plan and efforts at cost savings, rather than the bills’ tax increases, mandates on private citizens, and subsidies? Why did a recent conservative coalition letter opposing the bills omit opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion?

I suspect donor priorities become activists’ priorities. Of course conservative groups and politicians need to raise money, and Big Business has the big money. But there’s a problem: Big Business’ agenda often entails handouts and regulations that crowd out competitors — witness health care reform, cap and trade, the stimulus, and bailouts.

Is it coincidental that Republicans’ recent major transgressions against the free market — the Wall Street bailout and the Medicare prescription drug benefit — aided Big Business?

Conservative obeisance to business distracts the movement and sacrifices its principles. Even if this dynamic wasn’t behind the ACU-FedEx flap, conservatives should use the episode as inspiration to tell Big Business, “We’re with you as long as you’re for freedom, and we won’t let you set our priorities.”

Read the whole thing here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The rope the HMOs are selling

I was disappointed this week to learn that Vladimir Lenin never, as far as anyone can tell, actually said "the capitalists will sell us the rope by which we will hang them." Nevertheless, the idea is an important one, and in my column today, I apply it to the current lobbying push for health-care reform.

In 2025, when a newly sworn-in President Gavin Newsom looks at the health insurance industry — subsidized up to its neck, benefiting from federal mandates that require us to buy their product and protected from competition by regulations — and decides that the modest “public option” should simply be expanded to a single-payer, government-run system, should free-market types rise to defend these subsidy-suckling regulatory robbers?

Congress will kill the private insurers some day, but between now and then, the companies will profit handsomely and easily. Are the HMO lobbyists and CEOs buying short-term profits at the price of their long-term survival? Are they selling the rope with which government will hang them?

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chrysler, GM lobby a shareholder — the feds

My K Street column follows up on the lobbying done with your tax dollars.

Chrysler, meanwhile, still has hired guns on retainer. Venable LLP and Timmons & Co. both filed lobbying registrations in recent days listing Chrysler as the client. Timmons has represented Chrysler since at least 1999, and Chrysler originally retained Venable in April 2008.

A Chrysler lobbyist at Timmons told me his firm needed to file a new registration effective June 11 because the Chrysler that emerged from bankruptcy that day was a new corporate entity. Venable, similarly, terminated its representation of the old Chrysler — legally “Chrysler LLC” -- June 10 and registered as a lobbyist for “Chrysler Group LLC.”

Asked about its lobbying, a Chrysler spokeswoman replied in an e-mail:

“There continues to be significant demand for education and information regarding Chrysler from legislators and government officials. These include responding to government requests for plant visits, explaining significant company decisions and preparing for various congressional hearings. All of this is lobbying under the law.”

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Would you spend $1,000 for Ted Kennedy's new book

Lyndon Johnson famously shook down companies and lobbyists to advertise on the radio station his wife owned, one of the many corrupt LBJ stories people tell with a chuckle these days. It was a great way to give undisclosed and unlimited contributions straight to the Johnson bank account -- far more useful than campaign contributions which are supposed to be spent on campaigning. Rather than selling access for campaign cash, Johnson appears to have been selling access to buy Lady Bird a new pair of shoes.

Should we have the same concern about the $1,000 edition of Ted Kennedy's book? From the New York Times:

At a time when publishers are scrambling to keep customers willing to pay $26 for a hardcover book instead of $9.99 for an electronic version, the publisher of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s forthcoming memoir is going in the opposite direction - issuing a limited edition it plans to sell for $1,000 a copy.

Twelve, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing, is planning to issue 1,000 copies of a leather-bound, electronically signed edition of “True Compass” and sell the books through the Web site of the Hachette Book Group, the parent company of Grand Central.

Who has the means and the motive to shell out a grand for such a tome?

[from Beltway Confidential]

Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic is getting excited that the Senate's health committee could pass a health care bill as early as today. In that light, and considering the deals with industry that Democrats have made to get this far, I recommend everyone read two blog posts from recent days.

First, Tyler Cowen writes about the "market" prices of the various "reforms": who's paying whom what.

And Will Wilkinson has a strong post titled "The Path to Corporate Welfare is Paved with Essential Legislation." In it he asks:

When I talk to folks on the left, a lot of them really earnestly claim to deplore corporate welfare. But, when it came down to it, a lot of those same folks wanted to brag about promising to deliver corporate welfare to Wal-Mart. What gives? It makes me wonder how they think corporate welfare happens? Do they think it’s usually not as part of some legislative quid pro quo?

Like Waxman-Markey, the health-care bill will be a huge boon to the biggest corporations in the affected industries--and again it will be called "reform."

Monday, July 13, 2009

'Strange bedfellows' watch: Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense Fund

[From Beltway Confidential]

My pet beat is covering the cooperation between big business and big government, a phenomenon much more common than many journalists seem to think and than many politicians care to admit.

One of my hobbies, then, is collecting "strange bedfellow" remarks--when writers, businessmen, or politcians do notice big business lobbying for bigger government, they often accompany the observation with a declaration of "In an interesting twist..." or "strange bedfellows" or "an unusual alliance." Of course, a phenomenon should only be allowed to be "strange" or "unusual" so many times before it becomes commonplace.

Somehow, though, Big Business-Big Government collusion gets to be surprising every single time it shows up, which is every single day. So, today I am beginning an occasional feature on this blog, called " 'Strange Bedfellows' Watch," in which I chronicle the claims of "odd alliances" that are about as odd together as Ham and Cheese.

Today, from a piece worth reading on the tensions within the corporate alliance for climate change regulations, comes this quote:

What's significant is that USCAP has demonstrated that industry and environmentalists can agree on a framework for addressing climate change, said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

"It's very unusual for big corporations to raise their hands and say, 'We want to be regulated for something that we're not regulated for now,'" Mr. Krupp said. "When the written, it will show USCAP to have played a very constructive role."

No, Mr. Krupp, it's not "very unusual," and neither is your claim that it is unusual.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Congress gives your money to T. Boone Pickens

This week, the Pickens Plan turns one year old, and so I revisit the lobbying and business jockeying behind it. Specifically, I report on how T. Boone Pickens has invested in natural gas cars, and how he is packaging his push for subsidies as some way to save the world:
Perversely, his recent shift—from selling stuff (such as oil) that people want to buy, to selling stuff (like gas cars and wind power) that people buy only when it’s subsidized or mandated—has elevated Pickens’ reputation from greedy capitalist to world-saver.

Pickens was one of the bad guys in a 1992 book Den of Thieves where he was derided as a “corporate raider” and named by one reviewer as oneof “the main players behind why the 1980’s were characterized as the ‘decade of greed.’ ” The offense back then—in addition to selling oil—was his penchant for “hostile takeovers.”

“Hostile takeovers” is an inaccurate term for what Pickens used to do. The management didn’t like them, sure, but the transactions in question consisted of shareholders voluntarily giving their stock to Pickens in exchange for Pickens’ money.

Pickens’ new bid actually is hostile. I don’t want to fund his windmills or methane cars. But if I refuse, the IRS will come after me. But instead of“greed” it’s dubbed as “green.”
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The brawl that could sink health-care reform

What we see on the surface of policy debates--Congressional Budget Office scores, impassioned appeals to principle, and the like--often has little bearing on the eventual fate of legislation. The behind the scenes lobbying is often more important.

My K Street column today peers behind the curtain in health-care debate and exposes a hidden rift:
President Barack Obama's ambitious health care reform could be derailed by an abstruse lobbying battle between two key White House allies: the pharmaceutical industry and the senior citizens lobby. AARP has sided with generic drug makers against the name-brand giants on the backstage issue of biologic drugs.
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Class Dismissed: How Teachers Unions Killed D.C. Vouchers

After I wrote my Examiner column in February on teacher union lobbying clout and their campaign against vouchers, I had the opportunity to expand this story for Labor Watch, a publication of the Capital Research Center. Now you can read the full piece in PDF. Here's the precis:
At the urging of teachers unions, the Democrat-controlled U.S. Congress has put the District of Columbia’s pilot educational vouchers program on the fast track to extinction. This in spite of the fact that vouchers enjoy the support of several high ranking D.C. officials and important Democratic constituencies. How did the teachers unions acquire such clout? Timothy P. Carney, lobbying editor and columnist for the Washington Examiner, tells the story of the political struggle that created the vouchers program, and the backroom maneuvering that killed it.

Liberals cheer Wal-Mart's kneecapping of smaller competitors

Big business supports big government once again--and I have the explanation in my Examiner column:

We've read all sorts of airy explanations from liberal bloggers who focus on health care. Ezra Klein at the Washington Post writes that Wal-Mart's endorsement "ensures that its concerns will be heard and heeded," and "repairs ... damage ... done to its reputation in recent years."

CAP, which has received at least $500,000 from Wal-Mart according to the company's website, argued that Wal-Mart was supporting the mandate because "all firms would benefit from the reduction in unpaid medical bills incurred by the uninsured." These are nice, harmless explanations that miss the point.

The New Republic's health-care blogger, Jonathan Cohn, came close to Wal-Mart's true motivation: "Wal-Mart has suddenly found itself ... dealing with unpredictable health costs and facing new competition from businesses that have found ways to spend even less on employee health benefits."

The most important part of that analysis can be put more simply: Wal-Mart sees a way to use government as cudgel with which to knee-cap smaller opponents.

You see, Wal-Mart already offers health insurance to all full-time employees and some part-time employees. Many of Wal-Mart's competitors do not do this, which is why the National Retail Federation opposes the mandate. An employer mandate imposes costs on Wal-Mart's competitors, possibly without imposing costs on Wal-Mart.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Are plug-in electric cars the new ethanol?

In 2006, I wrote that large-scale ethanol use--although it was being promoted as a green fuel--would not be good for the planet. By 2009, that was nearly consensus.

Today, plug-in electric cars are the new miracle cure to our energy worries. My Examiner column today looks at some of the problems that could arise from widespread adoption of electric cars:

Back to the lithium: The GAO report warns that “extracting lithium from locations where it is abundant, such as in South America, could pose environmental challenges that would damage the ecosystems in those areas.”

Those more concerned with energy independence than green fuels also have reason to doubt electric cars: About half of the world’s lithium reserves are in Bolivia. A major shift to lithium-powered cars “could substitute reliance on one foreign resource [oil] for another [lithium],” the GAO writes.

Read the whole thing here.