Published on Monday, September 26, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
The Silent Coup The Media Forgot: K Street vs. Pennsylvania Avenue
by John Atcheson
While the media’s been dazzling us with wag-the-dog wars in Iraq and Jennifer, J-Lo and Jacko non-news here at home, a far more important battle has been taking place right under our collective national nose.
In what amounts to a silent coup, an unholy alliance of corporate power brokers and conservative Republicans have spent the last five years attempting to hi-jack democracy and move the seat of governance from Pennsylvania Avenue to K Street.
But you won’t read about this coup, you won’t see it played out on the evening news, and you won’t hear about it on talk radio. Why? Because the mainstream media are major combatants.
At the center of this takeover is the K Street Project – an attempt to purge industry’s lobbyists of any and all Democrats, and to make sure that "...even the secretaries..." are "conservative Republican activists."
They’ve just about succeeded.
Over the past five years the relationship between government and industry has been transformed. Now, an assortment of K street Corporate shills write legislation, develop tax proposals, and formulate foreign policy, sometimes in their industry’s self-interest, sometimes at the behest of a few right wing ideologues in Congress or the Administration.
This complicated dance between corporate and political power gets played out daily along K street, and a variety of devil’s deals that would’ve made our forefathers weep has become routine business.
The grease that lubricates this new model of government is greed; the fuel that feeds it is money. Lots of it. And overwhelmingly, the hard-line, right-wing conservative branch of the Republican Party are both its architect, and its beneficiary.
Thus, those that crow the loudest about patriotism, the flag, and moral values, do the most to subvert the political foundations and ethical precepts that shaped this nation.
Thus, the marbled halls of Congress are fast becoming a Mausoleum in which are buried the civics lessons from a simpler time.
The results are most undemocratic. For example, Grover Norquist, an unelected ideologue and professional government-hater and one of the chief architects of the K Street Project, wields more power in Washington than all but a very few elected officials.
Norquist is famous for saying , "Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub."
Here’s where the K Street Consortium comes in. And here’s where we get screwed.
The imperative to gut government collides with the needs and wants of the rich and powerful.
One result of this collision was that in 2004, Mr. Bush’s tax reforms gave the average millionaire a $123,595 cut, but cut the middle 20% of income earners by just $647.
The K Street Consortium also explains why all of that $647 and more got eaten up by increased medical, energy, and educational costs.
Take the Prescription Drug Plan passed in 2003. As many as 3000 lobbyists spending hundreds of millions ($116 million in 2003 alone) worked diligently to pass this Porker. The payoff for industry, according to a study by Sager and Socolar of Boston University, is that as much as 61% of Medicare’s costs will be pure profit for the Drug companies, an increase of as much as $139 billion (that’s billion with a b).
Because the lobbyists from PhRMA – one of the most powerful K Street Players – made sure that the US was actually prohibited from using its buying power to negotiate for lower cost drugs under the new prescription drug plan. Net cost to tax payers? $720 billion over ten years.
Or take the Energy Legislation: $66 billion dollars worth of pork, the majority of it going to the fossil fuel industry at a time when oil companies are earning record profits. This piece of K Street legislative pornography scarcely addresses demand, so the oil industry gets billions, and Americans get guaranteed high prices.
But if the imperative for the K Street consortium is to simultaneously shrink government and provide corporate Pork, how do the Republicans propose paying for it?
Easy. First, cut programs that benefit people, to help fund the pork. As Jonathon Weisman reported in the Washington Post, over the next several months, Republicans will try to cut Medicaid growth by $10 billion, trim $7 billion from the Student Loan program, sell out ANWR for $2.4 billion in oil revenue; cut the food stamp program by $600 million, among other cuts.
Of course, no matter how much you screw the people, you can’t afford to give rich people massive tax cuts while you give trillions to industry. So, the second part of their strategy is to simply pass on the inevitable bill to our children. If the K Street Consortium implements their policy agenda, in ten years, every child born in the US will "inherit" $36,000 of additional debt.
And that was before Katrina burst through levees weakened by budget cuts; before New Orleans and the gulf coast spun into a national purgatory as a crony-ladened FEMA bumbled around for five days.
Since Bush and his K Street cronies refuse to delay their tax cut for the rich, we’ll have to cut more programs and shovel more debt onto our children and grandchildren to cover Katrina’s and Rita’s $200 billion plus price tag.
So much for Republican fiscal conservatism.
Ironically, the K Street Consortium not only hurts the average American, it hurts American industry.
For example, when GM spends more than $1000 per vehicle on health care for their US workers, but Toyota spends next to nothing for theirs in Canada or Japan because they have universal health care, it’s hard for GM to compete, and it’s hard for the US to retain or generate manufacturing jobs. The same is true of cuts to education. The US worker is falling behind the rest of the developed world’s labor force in terms of skills so we’re losing one of our primary competitive advantages. And testing required under No Child Left Behind is all well and good, but when the testing reveals problems, the Bush Administration has not been willing to pay for improvements.
Republicans accuse Democrats of being "tax and spend liberals." The reality is, Democrats do tax a little more, but they spend less, and Americans get more for their money.
Republicans tax less but spend much more and the borrowed largesse goes to corporations and the likes of Ken Lay and Paris Hilton, while the debt gets passed on to future generations.
Look beyond rhetoric to the record. Clinton gave us a smaller government with better services. And we now know that programs supporting jobs, education, and health care – the ones that Bush and the K Street Consortium want to cut – not only foster an equitable and just society, but they also promote a prosperous economy.
So, next time you visit Washington to see the seat of our government, forget Pennsylvania Avenue. Stop by K Street.
And while you’re there, ask Grover why you can’t get a college loan; why the US has the most expensive, but one of the least effective, health care systems in the developed world; why we’re closing factories but opening Wal-Marts; why wages have flatlined; and why your child is born into debt so that David Ovitz’ $100 million plus bonus for failing as Disney’s number two man isn’t taxed too heavily. Or ask Grover why New Orleans’ levees weren’t kept in good repair, and why FEMA fumbled.
Then ask yourself Dr. Phil’s famous question, "How’s all this working for you?"
John Atcheson's writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, as well as in several wonk journals.