Economic issues in the elections

With control of the House and Senate at stake in the Nov. 5 elections, the Republicans have launched a national campaign of lies and disinformation.

The most outrageous example is Social Security. Ever since occupying the White House, the Bush administration, with support from Congressional Republicans, has been pushing for privatization. Now, the White House has given orders: don’t call it privatization – call it individual choice.

Whatever name it goes by, the Bush Republicans want to divert part of Social Security income to individual investment accounts, providing a bonanza for Wall Street investment houses and undermining the security of future retirees. Even Bush’s hand-picked “Commission to Strengthen Social Security” admitted that these proposals would require cuts in current benefits, increased taxes or government borrowing.

Republican candidates also talk about helping investors who have lost money in the stock market. But economist Dean Baker points out that their plan would provide no help at all to the vast majority, while providing yet another tax break for the very rich. And the “reform” legislation the administration pushed through Congress after the wave of corporate scandals allows corporate executives to reward themselves with even bigger pension plans, while stiffing workers. This doesn’t stop Republicans from posing as champions of corporate accountability.

Meanwhile, a “non-profit” front group for the drug lobby is spending between $9 and $13 million dollars in a campaign that mainly supports Republican incumbents. It praises the Republicans for supporting legislation to provide a prescription drug benefit for the elderly. It doesn’t tell you that this bill provides a bonanza for the drug and insurance companies, while doing little to help most seniors, and nothing to control drug costs. Meanwhile, these same Republicans have blocked proposals to add a drug benefit to Medicare, which would provide deeper coverage while slowing drug costs.

A year ago, under cover of “fighting terrorism” and “economic stimulus,” the Republican-controlled House passed a bill giving huge tax rebates to a handful of giant corporations, including Enron. Fortunately, the Senate stopped this particular outrage from becoming law. The AFL-CIO has been running ads attacking the Republicans for trying to give a free gift to Enron. Republicans complained that the ads were inaccurate, because the bill they passed benefited many corporations, not just Enron. Because of this, they convinced many TV stations to stop airing the ads.

But the AFL-CIO was essentially correct. The Republican bill was indeed a giveaway to Enron, along with other undeserving corporations. But with the help of the TV stations, Republicans managed to confuse the issue, making it appear that Democrats were distorting the issue and diverting attention away from their own complicity in looting the Treasury.

The list of specific issues goes on and on, but the pattern is clear. The Bush administration, with the full support of Republicans in Congress, is pressing ahead with more corporate tax breaks, more tax cuts for the rich and unlimited military spending. They will use the resulting budget deficits as an excuse for further attacks on Social Security, education and every other federal program that benefits the people. They will try to offload the full burden of dealing with the recession onto state and local governments, causing more cutbacks in services and increasing taxes on the working class.

It will take a long, hard struggle to win real alternatives: ending the tax breaks for the rich and the corporations, halting the drive to war and greatly increasing federal spending to meet the real needs of the majority while providing jobs and stimulating the economy. The first step is to mobilize every vote to defeat the right-wing Republicans Nov. 5.

The author can be reached at arthur.perlo@pobox.com