Despite bipartisan rhetoric, Congress brings back pork

Outside editorial

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Wichita Eagle:

After a brief spasm of bipartisanship, Congress has returned to form in crafting economic-stimulus bills that push party lines, eschew compromise and open the feeding trough for lobbyists and special interests. It's not a pretty sight.

The debate over how best to stimulate the economy turns on a genuine difference of philosophy: Democrats want the focus on short-term, temporary stimulus by putting money into the hands of people who will spend it; Republicans stress tax cuts and corporate breaks meant to boost long-term investment and job creation.

There is some merit in each approach. Unfortunately, both approaches are being undermined by an unseemly rush by lobbyists and politicians eager to benefit parochial interests at the expense of larger national economic health.

Thus we have, in the Democrats' Senate bill, buffalo burgers for schoolkids (Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, in a $10 million nod to his state's bison industry); some of the richest investment-banking firms in lower Manhattan receiving $4,800 per employee in tax credits, under rules originally intended to encourage these companies to hire welfare workers and the disabled; and billions in further giveaways to agriculture - even though the Democrats stressed that their bill's relief would not be industry-specific.

The Republicans set the swinish tone in their overloaded House bill, which featured a repeal of the corporate alternative minimum tax, established in 1986 to ensure that large corporations wouldn't be able to escape paying federal income taxes through write-offs.

Not only would the House bill repeal the tax, it would refund these corporations billions of dollars in credits they were allowed to accumulate: IBM would be able to claim a $1.4 billion refund this year, according to the Congressional Research Service; General Motors Corp. would get $832 million ... and so on.

You get the picture. "The gloves are off in Washington, and the hands are in the till," noted Kim Wallace, a political analyst for Lehman Brothers.

This business as usual means the nation is far away from a responsible economic-stimulus plan.

America deserves better.

Congress needs to craft a compromise measure that contains some of the most effective elements of tax breaks and short-term spending. It should leave the pork on the cutting-room floor.

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