WASHINGTON (IPS)–Major U.S. corporations are profiting far too much from the wave of patriotism that has swept the country since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, say civic, environmental and labor groups.
They are pressing Congress to delay action on a mounting pile of legislation which, if approved, would add to the windfall big business and the wealthy have collected over recent weeks.
Since Sept. 11, “members of Congress have served up a non-stop buffet of corporate pork legislation,” said Ralph Nader, the Green Party’s presidential candidate last year and the founder of a network of U.S. public interest and consumer groups.
“Under the guise of national security, our federal treasury is being raided and our democratic rights are being taken away while Congress feeds sympathetic campaign contributors at taxpayer expense, sends working people to fight, and leaves the unemployed, the disenfranchised, and American families to suffer,” Mr. Nader adds.
Mr. Nader and others say they are incensed by economic stimulus legislation in Congress that provides more than $200 billion in tax breaks and related benefits to big corporations and upper-income taxpayers.
“Who would have thought that a national emergency would set off a feeding frenzy by corporations and the wealthy?” asks Robert McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice.
The airline industry has been a special beneficiary of the post-Sept. 11 corporate bonanza. Congress approved a $15 billion bailout of already-troubled airline companies virtually before the dust had settled at the site of the fallen twin towers of Manhattan’s World Trade Center, even while some 150,000 aviation workers were being laid off by many of the same companies.
When asked to provide $2.5 billion in extended unemployment benefits, job training and health care for those workers, Republican senators, backed by President George W. Bush, filibustered the bill to death.
“The bailout doesn’t help the workers and doesn’t help the passengers,” said John Passacantando, director of the U.S. section of Greenpeace.
The outrage over corporate profiteering appears to be growing, both in Congress and the mainstream media. While the airline bailout passed easily in early October, the House of Representatives split along party lines on the tax cut package.
“At a time when the country is being urged to make sacrifices for the common good, the idea of well-to-do Americans lining up for a tax break is appalling,” the New York Times declared Oct. 25, the day after the House approved the stimulus bill in a 216-214 vote.
“The predators of Washington are up to their old tricks in pursuit of private plunder at public expense,” declared Bill Moyers, the country’s most prominent television documentary producer and former President Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary, in a recent speech. “In the wake of this awful tragedy wrought by terrorists, they are cashing in,” he said.
Corporations and their lobbyists appear unfazed by the outrage, however. The mining, energy, pharmaceutical, insurance and defense industries have mobilized hundreds of lobbyists to take advantage of the crisis atmosphere in Congress and elsewhere in the nation by gaining favorable new legislation.
Encouraged by energy companies, Mr. Bush, whose campaign was financed in major part by many of these same industries, has renewed his drive to get Congress to approve his energy plan, which would permit drilling in the environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and expand the use of nuclear power.
Environmental groups, which favor conservation and the development of alternative sources of energy, say nuclear power stations are especially vulnerable to terrorist attack, as would be any pipelines built to transfer oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“The administration and many in Congress are pushing energy legislation that will actually weaken national security,” said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth.
Consumer and health groups also are furious with the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to capitalize on the anthrax scare. They highlight what they call price gouging by the German-owned giant, Bayer, which holds the patent on Cipro, an antibiotic effective against the virus.
“Confronted with the prospect of bio-terrorism on a massive scale,” said Robert Weissman, co-director of the group Essential Action, “the Bush administration and the pharmaceutical industry have colluded to protect patent monopolies rather than the public health.”
The administration has taken credit for forcing Bayer to reduce its normal price for Cipro. Mr. Weissman, however, said the price to which it eventually agreed, 95 cents a pill, is twice what the government currently spends for the same drug in another federal program.
According to the New York Times, the pharmaceutical industry spent more on lobbying and campaign contributions, most of which went to Republicans, than any other industry in the last election cycle–a total of almost $200 million. Drug firms have some 625 registered lobbyists–more than there are members of Congress.
“The nation recognizes that the heroes of the (Sept. 11) tragedy are our nation’s working people, but all Congress and the United States want to do is give more tax breaks to big business and the nation’s wealthier people,” said Mildred Brown, a recent president of ACORN, a grassroots welfare rights organization.