Jeffrey Birnbaum reports on how K Street lobbyists and PACs are handing out money in the current election and which groups will lose if the Democrats win control of one or both houses of Congress.
Democratic leaders have signaled, in campaign commercials and elsewhere, that they intend to attack pharmaceutical and oil companies in a variety of ways when Congress reconvenes. That isn't a surprise; neither industry has been very supportive of Democrats in recent years. Since 2002, drug firms have given about two-thirds of their donations and energy companies have given roughly three quarters of theirs to Republicans, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).
Other industries that would be wise to watch their backs if Democrats take over include insurers, electric utilities, manufacturers, chemical makers, home builders, general contractors, food processors, railroads and building material producers -- all of which gave 60 percent or more of their contributions to Republicans since 2002, according to the CRP's statistics.
Democrats are likely to play favorites as well. If they win, they will almost surely give high priority to the wishes of labor unions and trial lawyers, which have generally been dismissed by Republicans.
Lawyers and unions? Doesn't any productive group win? Who else will gain if the Democrats come to power? Film studios and record companies? Big media companies? I am thinking it will be a win for illegal aliens - unless public anger on immigration prevents the Democrats from doing what they want to do.
The corporate shift of money from Republican to Democratic candidates has been noticable but small. One reason why: Political Action Committees give most of their money to incumbents.
That's why 80 percent of the money donated by PACs to federal candidates go to people who are already in office. They are, after all, the people who can vote in Congress. What's more, they also usually win reelection -- 90 percent of the time or better. Some PACs are actually prohibited from contributing to non-incumbents for these reasons.
Once the Democrats win a house of Congress then the money will shift more in their favor in the following election.
Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post speculates on the legislative priorities should the Democrats win control of the US House or Senate.
In the House, the Democrats have made clear that there's a first tier of legislation they mean to bring to a vote almost immediately after the new Congress convenes. It includes raising the minimum wage, repealing the Medicare legislation that forbids the government from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices, replenishing student loan programs, funding stem cell research and implementing those recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission that have thus far languished.
Drug price controls would reduce the incentives and therefore the funding for new drug development. An increase in the minimum wage would reduce the illegal immigrant influx and also probably reduce the crime rate by pulling more black men into the labor market.
There's a limit on what a Democratic Congress could do on the spending side. The deficit is already too large and will likely grow in the next two years regardless of which party controls either house of Congress.
Cognizant that they will owe their victory in part to the public's revulsion at the way Congress does (or avoids) business, the Democrats also plan to revise House rules to enable the opposition party to introduce amendments and to sit on conference committees, from which Republicans have routinely excluded them since Tom DeLay became majority leader. They also will ban members from accepting gifts and paid trips from lobbyists.
By bringing such measures to a vote in the House, and conceivably in the Senate as well, the Democrats will be in the enviable position of doing both good and well: promoting long-overdue policy shifts that the public supports and putting their Republican colleagues in a pickle. Confronted with an up-or-down vote on raising the minimum wage or making medication for seniors more affordable, many Republicans will side with the Democrats.
The Democrats will make progress on the issue of ethics of Congress reps for maybe a few months before their majority position becomes just as attractive to them as a means to sell influence as it has become for too many Republicans. I remember Jim Wright and Dan Rostenkowski. I'm sure a younger generation of House Democrats are eager to follow in the footsteps of an earlier generation of Democratic Party office abusers.
Aside on stem cells: He's probably referring to human embryonic stem cells. The eventual future benefit of stem cell therapies is in the tens or hundreds of trillions of dollars. But total funding for all types of stem cell research (including the human adult stem cells that fundamentalist Christians do not object to) was only $604 million in 2005. It is a common and unfortunate mistake to assume the only issue worth debate about stem cell funding is how much to fund human embryonic stem cells. Yet many stem cell questions can get figured out using animal models. Also, research on adult human stem cells can yield valuable data and therapies. In my view people who want stem cell therapies should focus on the total amount allocated to all stem cell research rather than focus solely on human embryonic stem cells. Even human adult stem cell research is not funded well enough. Even animal model research is not funded well enough. Six hundred or so million dollars per year for all stem cell research is not enough.
A major domestic-policy plank in the Democrats' agenda is a rollback of the tax cuts, which has become the party's campaign mantra. But there is division within the party's ranks over how far they should go in attempting to repeal the across-the-board tax cuts that lowered tax rates for low-to-moderate income workers and doubled the child-tax credit that affects mostly middle-income families.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, who likely would become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee if the Democrats win the House back, has said that he could not think of a single Bush tax cut that he supported and suggested that all of them should be repealed. But Mrs. Pelosi, who would be in line to become speaker, said last week that the tax-cut rollback would only affect people earning $250,000 a year or more.
I'm less worried about the prospect for a tax increase because Bush will likely veto tax increases. The far bigger worry? Immigration. Likely future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has the most Open Borders voting record in the House of Representatives. She could block funding for border fence construction and internal immigration enforcement efforts. Plus, she could push the House toward support for the Senate's amnesty and guest worker legislation. Scary. If Pelosi gets placed into a position to influence US immigration policy it will be in large part because George W. Bush though he'd have a very easy time occupying Iraq.