Monday, January 23, 2006

Missing the Point on the Jack Abramoff Scandal

JackabramoffI don’t personally care a whit who goes to Scotland to play a few holes of golf on someone else’s tab or if a legislator is eating steak instead of rattling the pans in the kitchen in his Georgetown pied a terre, heating up the Kraft Dinner. But I do care that various interested groups are paying off our Senators and Representatives to the tune of a couple billion a year.


You think that’s high? I think it may be low by half.


Actually, you can’t get a total number. It’s all hidden, all smoke and mirrors. But the dollar amount is meaningless, it’s the paid special interests that get legislation harmful to your and my (merely tax paid) private interests that cause us to have


  • The highest cost prescription (and non-prescription) drug costs in the world

  • World’s most expensive, but 15th ranked, health care system

  • Health costs that threaten to swamp the nation’s financial boat

  • A lawyering system that drives doctors out of medicine

None of which contributes to your or my well-being and that’s where we miss the point on Abramoff. Money doesn’t give us only bribed legislators (although that’s true enough), it gives us bad law, law skewed toward the contributor. Law distorted by bribery gives us bad health care and useless schools, but it also makes us cynical about what was once the world’s finest political system.


SenricksantorumRick Santorum  in the most recent ‘election cycle’ bagged total ‘contributions’ of $11.5 mil, from which he spent about five and has a tidy  six and a half million left over. The Senator’s cookie-jar against a rainy day, because (should Rick simply decide to pack-it-in and go home) he can legally pocket the six and a half mil.


A little something to cheer him up in his old age. Speaking of which, Santorum sits on the Special Committee on Aging and conveniently glommed onto $461K of that eleven and a half million from retired people. They probably expected something for their money, if they're anything like my old daddy.


At the same time though, he pocketed a quarter million bucks from the insurance industry, 300+ thou from pharmaceutical and ‘health professionals,’ another hundred thou from hospitals/nursing homes and a tag-end $66,000 from health services/HMO’s. We know they expect something and it's not likely to be a lower consumer price for old daddy.


Essentially, we have a bidding war for Rick’s attention to committee business.


Either that or he’s a bad investment for someone. The shaky old fogies who coughed up over four hundred thousand can’t possibly have the same policy goals as the insurance, health and drug companies. Yet grandma and grandpa have been topped by a quarter million bucks in the bid for Rick’s heart and mind, not to mention his vote.


Rick won’t like that inference but, like Caesar’s wife, all he has to do is stop taking the dough.


SentedkennedyLikewise, and to be bi-partisan about this (because it is absolutely a two-party shaming), it means not a thing to me who’s tucking Teddy Kennedy into a five-course meal. It’s his chins that have to assimilate the calories.


Teddy’s arithmetic is even stranger, grabbing $7.7 mil, spending $3.9 million and having $7.8 million left over. How does he do that? Reporting contributions that don’t add up. But Ted sits on the Judiciary Committee and raked in $745,000 from lawyers.


C’mon, guys, how does that make sense in any other than an emerging nation environment?  And we have the hutzpah to criticize Vladimir Putin.


It took an Enron to shake up Congress enough to come up with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, that essentially requires corporate CEOs to sign off on accounting practices in their firms. But, of course, Congress wasn’t Enron at the time. Now, through the spotlight on Jack Abramoff, it turns out that Congress has become Enron, wandering into an ethical swamp from which it may not find an agreeable way out.


But there is a way out and Congress, disgraced by Jack but greased with money,  knows what it is. We'll see if they have the stomach for it.
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