According to our leaders, we are not supposed to let the war disrupt our normal lives. And, to their credit, they're leading by example. For instance, far from the war disrupting the House's normal mission of shameless corporate toadying, it's enhancing it. Indeed it's giving our leaders cover so they can put forward what they believe to be the answer to each and every problem America faces: a massive corporate giveaway. And they even have the gall to call it patriotism. Others, using the English language more rigorously, call it war profiteering.
The so-called economic stimulus package that passed the House last week would have been scurrilous in times of prosperity. But in this time of national crisis it is, quite simply, grotesque.
The grisly details include a retroactive elimination of the corporate alternative minimum tax and a 10 percent cut in the capital gains tax. And on the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Republicans are proposing an acceleration of all the top-bracket tax cuts and a return of that old favorite, the fully tax deductible three-martini lunch.
The House package is little more than a rehashed corporate wish list, doling out $115 billion in tax breaks to big business and the wealthiest taxpayers, and a comparatively measly $14 billion to poor and moderate-income families in the form of tax rebates and enhanced unemployment benefits. And while the tax cuts for the haves are permanent, those for the have-nots are good for only one year.
What's more, the money given to corporate America is given without conditions -- not tax credits tied to investments, but handouts more likely to end up in the CEOs' Christmas bonuses than back in the economy.
All you really need to know about the true nature of this bill can be found in a largely unnoticed provision that makes permanent a gaping tax loophole that was about to expire. It allows multinational corporations such as GE and Ford to avoid paying taxes by shifting profits to their offshore subsidiaries -- but only if those profits remain overseas. Tell me, how exactly is providing incentives to keep money out of our economy supposed to stimulate our economy.
The House bill is so outrageous that even some top GOP officials are balking. In a rare slip from the party line, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill colorfully criticized it as "show business." Rep. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa), one of seven Republicans who voted against the bill, labeled it "an early Christmas card" for "already profitable corporations." And the president's budget director, Mitch Daniels, informed the nation in a poetic outburst that "the corral gates" have been blown open and "the animals are running loose."
The galloping beasts in this case are corporate lobbyists and their chums on the Hill, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay chief among them.
The juiciest goodie in this box of corporate bonbons, the retroactive repeal of the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax, will lead to $25 billion in instant corporate rebate checks to needy companies such as IBM (slated to get $1.4 billion), General Motors ($833 million) and General Electric ($671 million).
Of the $25 billion refund, over $6.3 billion will be given to just 14 corporations. Not surprisingly, these 14 lucky winners have been regular and generous political donors. Over the last 10 years, they've poured almost $15 million in soft money into the national committees of both parties. It turns out that may be the smartest investment they've ever made. Big energy companies, including Chevron, Texaco, Phillips Petroleum and major Bush-backer Enron Corp., would recover hundreds of millions of dollars apiece. Enron alone would get $254 million, even as the Securities and Exchange Commission expands its investigation into suspicious deal-making by the firm's chief financial officer.
Such a blatant quid pro quo is so indefensible that the main champions of the grandly named Economic Security and Recovery Act aren't even trying very hard to justify it. Take Armey's wan effort on "Meet the Press." There he was, halfheartedly trying to convince Tim Russert that we need these massive new tax cuts because the last round of massive tax cuts were not geared to stimulating the economy. Really? Wasn't that him at a House subcommittee hearing back in March, selling the last tax cut bill as "just the shot in the arm that this economy needs"?
Armey then offered us all a lecture on how big corporate tax breaks are the best way to create new jobs. Unfortunately, the facts don't bear him out. Certainly the $15 billion that Congress just handed the airline industry hasn't kept it from laying off 140,000 workers.
Armey also called enhanced unemployment benefits "a feeble response" and not "commensurate with the American spirit." He went on to promise that the new stimulus package "will create 170,000 new jobs next year alone." Not exactly the most heartening news to the 7.8 million people currently unemployed in the country. What are the 7.63 million left on the sidelines supposed to do, sit around and cross their fingers, hoping one or two of the lucky 170,000 will eventually rub their new bosses the wrong way? Is that more in keeping with the American spirit?
It's time to declare war on war profiteering. But we'll need political leaders able to dramatize the betrayal of the public trust this bill represents.
Maybe there are too many numbers with too many zeros to draw the public's attention away from the latest "general alert" issued by the attorney general. So let's forget the numbers and focus on the moving story of good overcoming evil. Let history record that, after Sept. 11, our leaders brought the nation together and decided to fight the war on terrorism by making business lunches fully tax deductible and levying no taxes on corporate profits patriotically funneled off shore. Call it Operation Enduring Avarice.
It's enough to put a lump in your throat.