Monday, January 7, 2013

CONGRESSIONAL ETHICS ~ The Great Oxymoron

Well, typing is tougher than I’d like it to be. I’m not even commenting in the NY Times too often, so let’s make this short, sweet, and to the point.

There are no ethics in Congress.

Oh, you think that’s a little harsh? Ha. Read the pork attached to both the “fiscal cliff” and the Hurricane Sandy relief bill. Even if you don’t keep kosher, it’ll make you barf.  Matt Stoller, on NAKED CAPITALISM, lists 8 items worth repeating here:

1) Help out NASCAR - Sec 312 extends the “seven year recovery period for motorsports entertainment complex property”, which is to say it allows anyone who builds a racetrack and associated facilities to get tax breaks on it. This one was projected to cost $43 million over two years.

2) A hundred million or so for Railroads - Sec. 306 provides tax credits to certain railroads for maintaining their tracks. It’s unclear why private businesses should be compensated for their costs of doing business. This is worth roughly $165 million a year.

3) Disney’s Gotta Eat - Sec. 317 is “Extension of special expensing rules for certain film and television productions”. It’s a relatively straightforward subsidy to Hollywood studios, and according to the Joint Tax Committee, was projected to cost $150m for 2010 and 2011.

4) Help a brother mining company out – Sec. 307 and Sec. 316 offer tax incentives for miners to buy safety equipment and train their employees on mine safety. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bribe mining companies to not kill their workers.

5) Subsidies for Goldman Sachs Headquarters – Sec. 328 extends “tax exempt financing for  York Liberty Zone,” which was a program to provide post-9/11 recovery funds. Rather than going to small businesses affected, however, this was, according to Bloomberg, “little more than a subsidy for fancy Manhattan apartments and office towers for Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Corp.” Michael Bloomberg himself actually thought the program was excessive, so that’s saying something. According to David Cay Johnston’s The Fine Print, Goldman got $1.6 billion in tax free financing for its new massive headquarters through Liberty Bonds.

6) $9B Off-shore financing loophole for banks – Sec. 322 is an “Extension of the Active Financing Exception to Subpart F.” Very few tax loopholes have a trade association, but this one does. This strangely worded provision basically allows American corporations such as banks and manufactures to engage in certain lending practices and not pay taxes on income earned from it. According to this Washington Post piece, supporters of the bill include GE, Caterpillar, and JP Morgan. Steve Elmendorf, super-lobbyist, has been paid $80,000 in 2012 alone to lobby on the “Active Financing Working Group.”

7) Tax credits for foreign subsidiaries –  Sec. 323 is an extension of the “Look-through treatment of payments between related CFCs under foreign personal holding company income rules.” This gibberish sounding provision cost $1.5 billion from 2010 and 2011, and the US Chamber loves it. It’s a provision that allows US multinationals to not pay taxes on income earned by companies they own abroad.

8) Bonus Depreciation, R&D Tax Credit – These are well-known corporate boondoggles. The research tax credit was projected to cost $8B for 2010 and 2011, and the depreciation provisions were projected to cost about $110B for those two years, with some of that made up in later years.

# 6 just about pushed me over the edge. That’s the addendum that rewards companies sending jobs overseas with tax breaks. Really? We’re supposed to not notice?

The pork in this bill pretty much wipes out increased revenue with increased spending. The Sandy bill had $200 million for an unrelated Amtrak project as well as unrelated HUD projects. These may be necessary projects but attaching them to the relief bill makes them as appealing as 5-day old unrefrigerated dead fish.

Both the fiscal cliff bill and the Sandy bill should’ve  been passed naked, unadorned, as a testament to the willingness of Congress to put the needs of the nation ahead of its fundraising pocketbook. It just all looks bad.

There is no reason on the planet for any one of us to trust Congress to do the right thing…not even in an emergency. They have proven themselves unequal to the job of running our country. Fire them all and start over.

The Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Week
Don’t break your wrist. Trust me on this one.




3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Anyone who belives that Congress and the President actually pass bills that simply contain just those things that you would actually expect them to just doesn't understand the American Way.

Pork, you should pardon the expression, is our way of life whether you keep kosher or not. Unless you are planning to start an alternative universe Unites States of America, you will forever be engulfed is this incredibly dismaying system that somehow drives the socio-economic-political well-being of this great country!

And you think 3rd-world countries have problems???

The WP said...

I definitely understand that....I just don't like it. This could've been defining moment for Congress, but it wasn't. That made me sad.

JamaGenie said...

Most offensive and expensive provisions get passed because A) they're purposely buried in an unrelated bill assuredof passing, and more importantly, B) most members of Congress NEVER EVER read each and every page of a bill that runs hundreds of pages before voting. Much as I have no use for Ron Paul otherwise, I do have to applaud his unfortunately futile efforts to require that the text of a bill ONLY apply to its stated purpose, AND that the section of the Constitution that gives Congress the authority to vote on a particular bill be printed on the first page. No Constitional authority, no bill.

If this were followed, it would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to slip pork such as you describe above into unrelated bills.

Another practice that needs to stop is distributing copies of a bill only hours before a scheduled vote, so that even those who DO want to read each and every page to consider the contents have little or no time to do so. The best way to prevent pork, of course, is to give the president what most governors have always had - line item veto.