Uncategorized · September 6, 2021 1

When Money = Protected Speech The People Suffer

Marty Levine

September 5, 2021

In the twisted logic of this age, corporations are like people with civil rights to be protected. And, since political spending is now just another way of speaking and must be protected from any effort to limit it, big business and their owners are free to use their economic muscle to protect their power and wealth.  

Tony Romm, writing for In the Washington Post last month, began his reporting by telling us what these voices were about to tell us. “A torrent of political groups representing some of the country’s most influential corporations — including ExxonMobil, Pfizer, and the Walt Disney Company — are laying the groundwork for a lobbying blitz to stop Congress from enacting significant swaths of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion economic agenda.”

The bill that has become their target is the effort of Progressive Democrats to recenter the government on the common good rather than on special interests. As Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee and a key architect of the coming legislation described one key component,  “This new monthly child benefit is Social Security for our children, and represents a fundamental reordering in the commitments this country makes to its children and their families.” Other components include lower drug prices, expanding Medicare benefit and eligibility, investments in solving the climate crisis, federally guaranteed paid leave for all,  creating good jobs in the home and community-based-care sector, and investments in affordable housing.

Perhaps more controversially, these programs will be paid for by fixing a Tax System that has been twisted to benefit the wealthy.  This tax system has allowed the wealthiest Americans to become even wealthier while putting a need to pay even $400 in unexpected expenses beyond the reach of a growing share of our population.

These are the issues, and these are the programs that the power of the wealthy and powerful elite. Now their political voice/money is beginning to campaign against these issues and programs. And now we are seeing how skilled they are in wielding their influence.

The campaign we are seeing evolve to fight against these ideas is not one of competing ideas. It does present an alternate set of solutions. Their message is to instill fear– the fear that life will become so much worse if we act while ignoring today’s pains and the problems we can so clearly see on the horizon. Their speech is designed to divide us by focusing on individual costs while ignoring our common interests. They ignore the reality of the few Americans who have hoarded great wealth and pose that the costs of any new investments will be paid by those whom these proposals will help.

Aric Newhouse, the senior vice president for policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, described what stoked these fears when he explained the focus of their effort to derail the reconciliation bill to the Washington Post. “We’re doing it in every way you can imagine…the tax increases Democrats have pursued would mean manufacturing families will suffer, jobs will be lost.” Or as Brian Newell, a spokesman for PhRMA which represents large drug manufacturers put it, they see the reconciliation bills programs as  “empty promises that will do more harm than good…” OR as the Chamber of Commerce’s president and chief executive, Suzanne Clark put it these proposals will “halt America’s fragile economic recovery.” Former Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, who now advises the RATE Coalition, which counts support from Capital One, Disney, FedEx, Lowe’s, and Lockheed Martin raised another thing to be fearful of, “Any increase in the rate would position our country even further behind global competitors like China — and carry devastating consequences for American workers.”

They speak through corporate voices, and they also speak through their well-crafted network of nonprofit organizations. “The right-leaning American Action Network, in August announced a $5 million ad campaign against Democrats that blasted the reconciliation package broadly and likened its drug pricing proposals to socialism. A separate ad blitz arrived this summer during the Olympics…’Imagine a future in which a coronavirus vaccine was never discovered,’ began the 30-second television spot, before flashing images of emptied classrooms, shuttered storefronts, and Americans sleeping on the streets. Faulting Wyden’s proposals, the ad concluded, ‘It won’t be hard to imagine at all.’”

According to the Washington Post’s reporting this campaign “credits itself to the work of the American Conservative Union, along with the public backing of other right-leaning groups, including American Commitment, FreedomWorks, and Heritage Action.”

Their wealth gives these interests a power that is hard to counter. It makes their amplified voice very hard to miss. It also gives them access to those who will have to vote to move forward.  And it is effective.   

Senator Joe Manchin, whose vote will be critical in an evenly divided Senate, is listening. In an essay he published just days ago in the Wall Street Journal he echoes the theme of fear that protects these special interests.  He cites a set of impending disasters that will result if the bill moves forward to explain his call for delaying any action and for scaling back the size of the proposal. “The proposed $3.5 trillion in new spending isn’t to solve urgent problems but to re-envision America’s social policies. While my fellow Democrats will disagree, I believe that spending trillions of more dollars not only ignores present economic reality but makes it certain that America will be fiscally weakened when it faces a future recession or national emergency…the Social Security and Medicare Trustees have sounded the alarm that these life-saving programs will be insolvent and benefits could start to be reduced as soon as 2026 for Medicare and 2033, a year earlier than previously projected, for Social Security.”

In this battle, we are going to see if fear is more powerful than hope. We are going to see if the efforts to work on our individual fear that the future is might be worse than our current reality, even if that reality is not so good, are more effective than a call to work together to build a better future for all. We are going to see if it continues to be possible to hide the grim reality that those who have benefitted from decades of placing the interests of the wealthy over the interests of common men and women have only benefitted the wealthy. In this battle, we are again going to see if the loud voice of privilege can keep us from seeing that they are only talking about their own personal interests.

I hope that at this moment the result will be different. But I’m not sure that I am not whistling in the dark, only to be disappointed once more.