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Friday, June 08, 2018

DENNIS PATRICK: A PARLIAMENT OF WHORES REDUX

            Focus hard enough and the assertion of government impropriety runs clear and deep. In P.J. O’Rourke’s book “A Parliament of Whores” he humorously lambastes government in general, and politicians in particular, for their propensity to set aside principle for political gain.

            It’s an annual tradition that the top news stories are reviewed at the end of each year. Regrettably, the biggest story of 2017 went unreported, that is, the story of political prostitution. There is no reason to believe that 2018 will be any different.

            By Christmas the greatest deliberative body in the world degenerated into a house of prostitution, to wit, the buyoff of Senators to insure a successful vote on the 2017 tax bill followed by the 2018 omnibus monstrosity.

            Before vexation takes hold, check the definition of prostitution. The term “prostitute” broadly suggests more than a narrow sexual perspective. Prostitute (as a verb) -- To misuse something for gain. To use a skill or ability in a way that is considered unworthy, usually for financial gain. Any way you cut it, the etymology of the word connotes exactly what it says -- trading something for favors.

            Here are blatant examples of senatorial buyoffs.

            The sweeping GOP tax reform bill, passed on December 19, 2017, illustrates how our fickle senators can so easily be bought. A few Republican senators were holding out and not supporting the tax bill. At the last minute the Senate leadership successfully cut deals with these senators to secure their “yes” vote. That senators’ votes had to be “bought” to support a decent tax bill speaks volumes.

            The senators whose votes were “bought” were Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Bob Corker (R-TN). Thinking in static economic analysis terms, Flake and Corker believe the tax cut would balloon the national debt by $1 trillion. Dynamic economic analysis indicates otherwise. Collins was most concerned about the provision that would kill Obamacare’s individual mandate. This is the thinking of a liberal Obamacare supporter.

            Senator Collins sold her vote when she got Senate leaders to commit to Obamacare stabilization thereby ensuring the federal government would continue to pay for cost-sharing subsidies.

            Senator Flake’s vote was bought when Senate leadership made two concessions. First, Senate leadership agreed to a vague arrangement to negotiate on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The second was a phase-out of business expensing which allowed businesses to write off costs of new equipment.

            Corker’s vote was bought when a change to the bill extended provisions to real estate tax breaks from which he would personally benefit. Corker owns a substantial amount of commercial real estate.

            Fortunately for conservatives, Flake and Corker are not running for re-election. Collins considered retiring from the Senate to run as Maine’s governor but then reneged.

            These senators are not alone. There are others whose 2017 tax bill and 2018 omnibus bill votes were bought. However, the Senate has done so little work in this session under the guise of resistance to President Trump that there are fewer examples than usual. There are dozens of bills passed by the House and dozens of presidential nominations still waiting for Senate action.

            Nevada Democrat and former Senator Harry Reid once spoke unapologetically about vote buyoffs. He argued that, by definition, legislating means deal-making. “You’ll find a number of states that are treated differently than other states. That’s what legislating is all about. It’s compromise,” he said. He avoided saying that other states not benefitting from bought votes typically pick up the tab for deals cut.

            A not-so-coincidental factor comes into play. Billions of dollars remain unspent from other legislated funds. The unspent billions serve as a giant congressional “slush fund” with which to purchase votes in support of major legislation. If this is true, then, by definition, the U.S. Congress serves as one huge house of prostitution.

            O’Rourke’s book illustrates over and over the evolution of bloated, useless, and wasteful government programs. In the end, however, it’s the American people who look bad. He clearly shows the reason for this. Government programs have their constituencies which, more often than not, comprise the work-a-day middle class. We in the middle class have an appetite for gargantuan government programs making us easy prey for politicians.

            It’s always easier to talk about someone else than it is to criticize ourselves. The issue O’Rourke raises is whether democracy is ultimately doomed by a citizenry avoiding responsibility for their own lives. In his book “Democracy in America,“ Alexis de Tocqueville approached the same issue adroitly pointing out that, once people in a democracy realize they can simply blame others for problems of their own making, the democracy is morally doomed.

            Ben Franklin’s observation was even more cutting. “When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”

            In the end, it would appear, we are the whores trading our freedom for financial gain.

 

Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  

 

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