The Republicans, the neocons, the fundamentalist right wing, all make a god of “the market.” The market is the be-all and end-all, the ultimate trump card. The market is the solution they propose for everything — oops, wait a moment, not quite everything.

The market is supposed to regulate supply and demand, and is supposed to be “wiser” than government and people and policy and everything else. Except when it isn’t.

For example, Bush now threatens to veto a bill that mandates that the federal government negotiate Medicare drug prices with the drug companies. Supporters of the bill expect that, since the U.S. government, via Medicare, is the pharmaceutical companies’ single biggest customer, such direct negotiations will result in lower drug prices. (The Veterans Administration does this already, saving millions.) You would think that such negotiations between customer and supplier are a regular part of the market, a typical function of normal business relations. Isn’t that supposed to be what Republicans are in favor of?

It turns out that the Republicans favor the market, except when it might impact the profits of their largest contributors. Bush wants to exempt the drug corporations from any downward pressure from “the market.” Hence, his veto threat. Hence, the massive lobbying effort by the pharmaceutical companies to get rid of the negotiation provision in the Medicare bill that passed the House of Representatives a few weeks ago.

Most Republicans and more than a few Democrats have been swayed by lobbying, by massive contributions from drug companies and by pressure from Bush. It looks like the Senate version of the bill (S 3) will not win enough votes to close debate and allow it to proceed. This means, in practical terms, that without a massive counter-lobbying effort by people’s organizations, mandating negotiations over drug prices won’t even get to Bush’s desk, and he’ll be let off the hook of using his third-ever veto (the first was vetoing a bill on loosening restrictions on stem cell research, the second was against the war funding bill that contained timelines).

The real concern of the Republican program is not the market, but the profits and the big political contributions. In the last several election cycles, the pharmaceuticals have been the Republicans’ largest single source of contributions. These companies expect their bought-and-paid-for officials to help protect their excess profits from any government restriction, even when it comes not in the form of regulation but in the form of market pressure.

The massive corporations want it both ways — they appeal to the “needs” of the market and competitiveness when it bolsters their arguments about why they need outsize profits, but they reject the pressure of the market when it might mean less cash in their pockets.

I don’t think that “the market” is the answer to rising health care costs, especially rapidly escalating drug costs, but a little help pushing back on drug prices would be welcome for everyone. Always excepting, of course, the big drug companies themselves.

The lesson from this is that the policies of the Bush administration (and their right-wing and big business allies) can’t be judged on their proclaimed ideological stance (markets are god), nor on the basis of what they spin in their daily briefings for the media (which doesn’t challenge them often enough), nor on the basis of common sense.

The measure of their policies all comes down to profits. Bush’s veto threats (whether on drug prices or the Iraq war) are all about protecting the massive profit-taking of his base, the big corporations. When drug giants, or Halliburton, or Exxon, or Enron, are exposed for fraud, it always comes down to who benefits. To find out the reasons, follow the money.

The real surge in Iraq, the real escalation, is not just sending more troops; it is the tens of thousands of employees of private contractors. Private contractors who are making big money from the war. They see the war as a “growth opportunity,” a new way to get the rest of us to pay them through our taxes.

Bush and his corporate base may talk big about markets, but this veto threat is the proof that it is really profits they worship.

Marc Brodine (marcbrodine @inlandnet.com) is chair of the Washington State ommunist Party.

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