Thursday, December 29, 2005

When the Cutting Is Corrupted

When the Cutting Is Corrupted
By E. J. Dionne Jr.
The Washington Post

Tuesday 27 December 2005

With indicted superlobbyist Jack Abramoff reportedly ready to cooperate with prosecutors and his partner, Michael Scanlon, already singing, 2006 is expected to be the year of congressional scandals.

Lord knows, a housecleaning in the Capitol is definitely in order. But the Abramoff scandal is just part of the corruption of our political system. There is another level of special-interest influence that cannot be handled by prosecutors: Only the voters can render a judgment on a politics of favoritism that has created a new Gilded Age. It's clear that the national government has placed itself squarely on the side of the wealthy, the privileged and the connected.

Rarely does a single action by Congress serve as so powerful an example of how the system is working. The recent budget bill, which squeaked through the House and Senate just before Christmas, is a road map of insider dealing. It shows that when choices have to be made, the interests of the poor and the middle class fall before the wishes of interest groups with powerful lobbies and awesome piles of campaign money to distribute.

Republican majorities in the Senate and House insisted that they wanted to cut the federal budget. But the Senate and House offered competing plans for achieving savings. When it came time to meld the two proposals, almost every choice congressional leaders made favored the interest groups.

Consider federal health programs. The House bill proposed substantial cuts for Medicaid beneficiaries, but the Senate bill - partly because of pressure from moderate Republicans - did not include those cuts. Instead, the Senate proposed to save taxpayer money by eliminating a $10 billion fund to encourage regional preferred-provider organizations, known as PPOs, to participate in the Medicare program. It also sought more rebates to the federal government from drug manufacturers participating in Medicaid.....