Congress Protects Industry from Citizens
After a mere five years of controlling both Congress and the Presidency, the GOP is riding high. Busy dismantling social, regulatory and environmental policies they and their corporate sponsors dislike, today’s GOP is directing the reversal of government policies once supported by a hefty majority of Americans.
With the president under pressure for fumbling Iraq, GOP Senate majority leader Bill Frist under scrutiny for shady business dealings and de facto House leader Tom DeLay indicted for illegal campaign funds, one might expect the GOP to retreat, but they steam ahead. Three recent bills offer a microcosm of how the GOP pushes laws to increase their power and efficiently pay off their corporate sponsors.
Approved by the House this week, a GOP reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would prevent non-profit organizations such as National Alliance on Mental Illness, Children’s Defense Fund, Coalition for the Homeless, and the YWCA from voter registration, get-out-the-vote, or any other nonpartisan voter participation activities a year before applying for a grant from the new Affordable Housing Fund (AHF). Currently many states encourage nonprofits to promote civic engagement.
Although the bill includes safeguards to prevent organizations from using federal money for advocacy, it also bars nonprofits that receive grants from making public service announcements within 60 days of a general election and disqualifies any nonprofit that uses money from other sources or is even affiliated with an organization that politically advocates any position.
Meanwhile for-profit housing organizations and conglomerates are free to receive grants and support candidates. The GOP is so fearful that people in AIDS organizations, extremely low and very low income family groups and others that receive AHF housing money will vote against them that they bar them from participating in the political process.
Last week, the House sent to the president a new bill to protect the gun industry from lawsuits. A victory for the National Rifle Association, The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms bill provides gun makers, dealers and distributors immunity from civil lawsuits filed by dozens of cities across the country. Last year the NRA blocked the renewal of a ten-year-old ban on military-style assault weapons, backing up their claim that gun control is a dead issue in Congress.
Lawsuits are one of the only safeguards citizens have against deadly products marketed to them – such as cigarettes – by companies that sell lethal, harmful or deadly products. Thanks to the GOP, the gun industry now has blanket immunity to sell products that cost the American public, according to the National Institute for Justice, 10,000 lives, 49,000 injuries, over 340,000 assaults and between $6 and $12 billion, possibly as much as $80 billion, in 2000 alone.
The NRA bragged during the last election that Bush’s election would give them an office in the White House. Unfortunately, other corporate conglomerates exert similar influence. Pharmaceutical conglomerates recently directed Congress to eliminate their liabilities for injuries caused by faulty emergency vaccines.
Called the Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2005, the bill passed the Senate and is being rushed through Congress to strip citizens of the right to a trial by jury if they are harmed by an experimental or licensed drug or vaccine during public health emergencies. The head of the Department of Health and Human Services will have the sole authority to judge whether pharmaceuticals violate safely laws and citizens get no day in court. A new secret agency will insure that no information about deaths, faulty drugs or injuries will ever become public.
According to Barbara Loe Fisher, president of The National Vaccine Information Center, an educational organization, the legislation is an attempt by Congress “to give a taxpayer-funded handout to pharmaceutical companies for drugs and vaccines the government can force all citizens to use while absolving everyone connected from any responsibility for injuries and deaths which occur.”
The bill places citizens at risks, but even more importantly, when pharmaceutical companies know they are protected, there will be no incentive to keep vaccines safe or to prevent dangerous experimental drugs from being rushed to market.
The GOP and Bush’s White House hope to establish a dynasty in Washington well into the next decade. After five short years of such GOP legislation, one wonders how long Americans can afford legislative payoffs to campaign contributors that take away traditional rights.