Bribeocracy Update: the Quid Pro Quo status quo—Revolving Door

Bribeocracy Update Winter/Q1 2013

I want this blog to be a useful source of information you’ll not get from TV or other web sites. You certainly don’t hear about Medicaid issues like “aging out” of most in-home support at age 21, and how it impacts the ventilator-dependent population, on other blogs. You won’t get in-depth coverage of Medicaid, how Medicaid is changing in the age of ObamaCare (eligibility is broadening under the “Medicaid expansion” without addressing anything else) and the policies that must change, on many other sites. But I also feel a responsibility to spotlight the disease, not just the symptoms, strike at the root causes, cover the corruption that prevents our government from listening to us, filling the gaps in our social safety net, improving services. The corrupto-sclerosis clogging the gears of the federal machine has not been this obvious, awful, and destructive to the people, in my lifetime. Corruption has made Congress and the executive branch so dysfunctional that we’re seeing symptoms of unprecedented severity, like the oddly-named “sequestration.”

Good government has disintegrated in the acid of dysfunctional, corrupt Washington. It’s gotten SO BAD that “the sequester” is taking effect, meaning we can’t even agree that laying off a generation of NIH scientists and breaking the back of American medical research is bad, that gutting Head Start and K-12 funding is bad, that yanking housing vouchers out from under 125,000 Americans, many of them people with disabilities, is bad. Americans with disabilities will need homeless shelters—oh wait, they’re gutting funding for emergency shelters too, dumping an estimated 100,000 homeless people, who will end up on the sidewalks or end up suffering a traumatic displacement to other shelters, or more likely, emergency rooms (the standard dumping ground for populations our society hates and doesn’t want to face or deal with). This will hit New York City at the worst possible moment; in January 2013, more than 50,000 people, on average, slept in our city’s homeless shelters each night, a new record, easily surpassing past NYC averages, even those during the notorious The Warriors-looking NYC of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s likely that, by putting vulnerable populations out onto the streets en masse, we’ll create 21st century horror stories I can’t even imagine right now. All this brought to you by “the sequester.”

“Sequestration,” again, is just a symptom. The root cause is the culture of corruption and dysfunction in Washington that runs deeper, and is more corrosive and paralyzing now, than it has been during any other era in my lifetime. I believe that we have to attack corruption, and, recognizing that Team Donkey and Team Elephant swim in the same corrupt pond, mercilessly expose bribery and the quid pro quo status quo to the sunlight wherever it lives. Under the tag Bribeocracy, I’ve been trying to shed light on corruption on this blog for years. Last month, I talked about the quid pro quo status quo within the executive branch, which I hope ya’ll will understand is not okay; even if you give President Obama a pass for giving ambassador posts to top campaign contributors, I hope you won’t let him off the hook for giving out cabinet positions in the same manner, to CEOs who were top donors.

Today, I’ll talk about the “revolving door,” the phenomenon of creatures of Washington rotating in and out of lobbying and powerful positions in the White House, executive branch agencies, Congress, and Congressional staffs. These are the Senators, Congressmen, and key staffers who purport to work for the public good, then exit public service but stay on Capitol Hill to cash in on the work they did under oath to serve their district. They use their contacts and knowledge to advantage monied interests.

Some high profile examples: Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional district, chair of the House committee that oversees prescription drugs during GWB’s first term as president, negotiated the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Bill—soon after known as Medicare Part D—on crazy-skewed terms in favor of the pharmaceutical conglomerates (not only were private pharmacies and citizens banned from importing affordable drugs from Canada, ever, Medicare is banned from negotiating bulk prices or paying anything below full sticker price for prescription drugs) and then turned around hardly two months later and quit Congress in order to take the helm at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the giant trade association he had essentially let craft Medicare Part D while chairman. It’s one of the most brazen revolving door kickbacks the media has ever ignored. In Tauzin, Louisiana lost its most powerful voice in the House—seniority means how much clout and bargaining power your state and district has in the House—and the loss of voice, and betrayal, must’ve deeply stung his constituents; they might have felt like some unstoppable vixen took their man.

In my post Living in Zomerica, I mentioned that the so-called “Fiscal Cliff Bill,” passed two hours into falling off the cliff (2 a.m. EST on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2013) had egregious corporate welfare in it. Man, that thing was stuffed like a piñata with goodies for corporate campaign contributors. But beyond the eight industries receiving subsidies that I mentioned in my prior post, reports soon surfaced of a lucrative loophole for pharmaceutical company Amgen in the Fiscal Cliff Bill. The New York Times uncovered a sordid, almost unbelievably bizarre “revolving door” story that led to the kickback for Amgen. The loophole for Amgen was negotiated by a top aide for Sen. Orrin Hatch who previously worked as a health policy analyst for Amgen. The former chiefs of staff for both Sen. Max Baucus (D – Corrupt) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R – Corrupt) came back to Capitol Hill as Amgen lobbyists and lobbied their recent ex-bosses; it’s thought that notoriously bribable Senator Max Baucus slid the Amgen provision into the Fiscal Cliff Bill in the dark of night at the eleventh-hour, but it’s clear that there’s no daylight between Republicans and Democrats on this revolving door problem. They’re both up to their elbows equally in this cesspool of corruption.
In this Bill Moyers interview, tiny Vermont’s only representative in the House, Peter Welch, explains why he’s fighting to get Amgen’s “sweetheart deal” repealed.

A case like Rep. Tauzin’s emerged recently. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, about two weeks after being sworn in to the 113th Congress for her tenth term, announced her resignation January 22, 2013 and took a job as CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.National Rural Electric Cooperative Association NRECA, where the last CEO was paid around $1.7 Million for a year, one of Washington’s largest and most influential trade associations. Now, the 8th district in Missouri’s “bootheel”—the poorest in Missouri, and one of the 10 poorest in the nation—has to foot the bill for a reported $1 million election on June 4th.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association was the biggest single campaign contributor to both Jo Ann over the years, and to her husband Rep. Bill Emerson, who she inherited the Congressional seat from upon his death in 1996. Both Mr. and Mrs. Emerson were lobbyists in Washington prior to serving in the House of Representatives, and seem to be entirely creatures of Washington; neither were born in or near the impoverished rural district they swore to represent. Her ties to the district are much more tenuous than her husband’s were—at least he was a Missourian—she’s from Maryland, born and raised. So even though Jo Ann Emerson was Missouri’s most senior member of Congress, so Missouri loses a lot of clout in the House upon her departure, but it’s not the same as losing a Billy Tauzin, who’s deeply connected to his district. I think that understanding a district is essential to representing it. When I met with my Rep. in Mobile, Jo Bonner (Alabama’s 1st Congressional district, covering the entirety of Alabama’s Coastal counties, that is to say, Mobile and environs) even though we’re on the opposite sides of plenty of issues, since he comes from Mobile, we immediately have a shared culture, references, points of context, that make it easy for us to work together. Having that local connection is so very important!

The founding generation (the framers of the Constitution, founding fathers and mothers, and others of the spirit of ’76) intended the House of Representatives to be a constantly improving and updating body of the most knowledgable and wise representatives of the districts, to assess the realities on the ground, the results of the American experiment, and respond when adjustments are necessary. I know that because of bribeocracy supplanting democracy, we can’t expect good government to return in 2013, but definitely we can do better than the blatant abuse of people like Tauzin and Emerson using, then losing Congressional districts, cashing in on seniority.

Details of the sordid, weird, revolving Emerson in this CNN investigative report:

Worst revelations from the report:

    Unintended consequences? Laws prohibiting members of Congress from becoming registered lobbyists for two years after leaving office have backfired, making people like Emerson even more valued hires; they can bribe and influence on Capitol Hill for two whole years without any of the regulations or limitations registered lobbyists are subject to under current law. Monied interests are gaining from the two year waiting period purportedly designed to shut the revolting door.
    Jo Ann Emerson isn’t alone in leaving the House as the 113th Congress begins, she is one of five outgoing members—four Republicans and one Democrat—to abandon their constituents in favor of “influence industry” jobs.

Never stop exposing corruption.


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