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Where was the Democrats' opposition?
Washington's new gift to big business

January 30, 2004 | Page 1

WHAT DO you give the corporate boss who has everything? Anything they want--and make sure you wrap it up in a 1,182-page federal spending bill.

Last week, 21 Democrats joined Senate Republicans to vote 65-28 in favor of a $328 billion federal spending bill for 2004. Tucked away in the bill--called the "omnibus" spending bill, because it contains everything under the sun--are thousands of outrageous boondoggles.

Like $3 million for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's "First Tee Program," which promotes character development through golf. Or $225,000 for the National Wild Turkey Federation to promote--you guessed it--wild turkey hunting.

But the brazen Republicans didn't bother to hide the most outrageous parts of the bill. Like the giveaway to the media industry in the form of a "compromise" provision to new Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) rules that would allow media conglomerates to buy local television stations reaching up to 39 percent of the national audience.

Republicans added the provisions for their big media buddies who might be inconvenienced by a 35 percent cap set by Congress after it overturned the FCC's attempt to increase the limit to 45 percent. Such as, for example, Viacom, which owns CBS, whose stations reach...well, 39 percent of the national television audience.

But the goody that may have made Corporate America the happiest was the Bush administration's attack on overtime rights. Attached to the spending bill are rule changes that will make an estimated 8 million workers ineligible for overtime pay.

In one fell swoop, the Bush administration gutted a 65-year-old law that requires bosses to pay employees extra wages if they work long hours. One of the workers who could lose his right to overtime is Randy Fleming, whose military training helped prepare him for his job as an engineering technician for Boeing in Wichita, Kan.

"When I signed up back in 1973, the Air Force and I made a deal that I thought was fair," Fleming said in a statement to Congress earlier this month. "If you think it's okay for the government to renege on its deals, I think it should be your job to tell our military men and women in Iraq that when they come home, their service of their country will be used as a way to cut their overtime pay."

The Bush administration got just about everything it wanted. The omnibus bill takes a swing at public education by allocating $14 million for a school voucher system in Washington D.C.--a first for the federal government. Money that could be used for the district's struggling schools will instead go to vouchers for private schools.

The budget reflected the warped values of the Bush administration. Funding for the FBI will go up 9 percent. The Department of Education? Five percent.

And while the spending package includes $2.4 billion to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, abstinence training accounts for a third of the spending. Even Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program, which he plugged days before in his State of the Union address, is underfunded by more than $7.5 billion.

Congressional Democrats threw around a lot of tough talk in the lead-up to the vote on the spending bill. Before they voted in favor of it, that is.

Senate Democrats managed a token delay of less than 48 hours before they caved. First, 16 Democrats joined Republicans in a 61-to-32 vote to force a final vote. Then 21 Democrats voted for the bill.

"I think the weight falls more heavily on getting the bill finished and getting the money out there," said Sen. Mary Landrieu D-La., one Democrat who switched her vote. "We feel we've had the opportunity to make our statement about this issue," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said after the bill passed.

Daschle said that the Democrats didn't want to be held responsible for shutting down the government. And they call themselves the "opposition" party? But then again, we should be used to it by now.

The Democrats showed the same spirit of "opposition" when they voted for Bush's war in Iraq, for his USA PATRIOT Act and for an additional $87 billion for the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. With friends of working people like these, who needs enemies?

Likewise, none of the tough-talking Democrats showboating for the presidential nomination could be bothered to take a detour from the campaign trail to come back and vote against Bush's budget bill. And this bunch claims that it's ready to beat Bush in 2004.

If this is the kind of "opposition" they offer, they don't deserve your support. We deserve a real alternative.

A helping hand for Corporate America

CORPORATIONS DON'T have enough say in how the government is run--and tax laws are too hard and expensive for them to follow. At least that's the conclusion of a new Bush administration report.

The administration's report on manufacturing says that the Treasury Department should study how to make tax laws less complex and costly for companies to comply with. Yes, those same tax laws under which business' share of the federal income tax burden has dropped from about 50 percent six decades ago to 13.8 percent today.

Also, according to the report, the White House budget office should conduct a government-wide review of regulations to assess their impact on U.S. manufacturers. "This is our strategy to remove the barriers that are holding back American manufacturers and costing jobs," Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said.

One recommendation would mean the creation of a President's Manufacturing Council, headed by Evans and including manufacturing executives. The advisory panel, say administration spokespeople, would ensure a "voice for manufacturers" in federal initiatives. Turns out big business doesn't have much influence in Washington at all.

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