Looking Out for the Big Guy

Posted: Feb 07, 2011 12:01 AM
Looking Out for the Big Guy

It’s only February and we already have a strong contender for the most substantively offensive quote of 2011. It comes from a top staffer to Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, who invited 400 lobbyists and interest groups to a strategy session to prevent fiscal responsibility from returning to Washington.

"One thing everyone should be able to agree on now is that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that a higher [Labor, Health & Human Services] allocation improves the chances for every stakeholder group to receive more funding," the staffer wrote.

You can bet that when 400 lobbyists are coming together, the best interests of the American people are not being advanced. This is the problem with Washington and a major reason for the rise of the Tea Party movement: if you have “big” in front of your name – big business, big labor, big government – your interests are protected; if not, you’re on your own.

Nearly six years ago, Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay declared an “ongoing victory” in the war on spending and said there was no fat left to cut in the federal budget (I’m not making this up, he really did say that). What he meant was not that every dollar spent by the federal government is most efficiently spent by the federal government for the purpose most vital to our nation, which is what most people’s definition of getting rid of all the fat in government is. He meant that every penny in the federal budget was protected by some powerful lobbying coalition that had advanced its narrow interest at the expense of the greater good of our nation.

Today, unemployment may be at 9 percent nationally, but it’s still a great time to be a lobbyist for the powerful in Washington.

We found out last week the Department of Health and Human Services has granted 729 waivers to a provision of Obamacare, which presents a clear problem for employers who offer “mini-med” plans. If employers were unable to offer these plans, more than a million workers would lose their current coverage.

It may sound like a bad deal to have an unelected bureaucrat in Washington choosing who gets a waiver – and therefore is exempt from this burdensome provision – and who does not, but it’s actually a great deal for politically connected big business. It’s a bad deal for the entrepreneur.

The American free enterprise system is built around entrepreneurs who invent better companies that provide better service at cheaper prices and force established companies to either innovate or go out of business. Think of a small company like Netflix 10 years ago going up against Blockbuster Video and winning.

Burdensome regulations that are confusing to get out of are very costly for a small business or an entrepreneur. They cannot afford to hire a team of lobbyists in Washington to find a loophole in the system or ensure their waiver application is approved quickly. Big businesses can do that. Unaccountable Washington bureaucrats exercising their discretionary authority is, therefore, a huge competitive advantage for big business and a hurdle to entrepreneurship.

Lobbyists are not just getting waivers for big business from Obamacare. Last month, the Obama Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began enforcing new rules regulating greenhouse gas emissions from new or expanding power plants. Last week, the EPA issued its first waiver. General Electric, shortly after its CEO Jeff Immelt agreed to head President Obama’s outside panel of economic advisors, received that waiver.

Lobbying is a right protected by the first amendment, which states Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievance. It’s an important protection and there is nothing inherently wrong with the work lobbyists do on behalf of the powerful. The real problem is the federal government has gotten so big – spending nearly $4 trillion per year, taxing over $2.5 trillion per year, and imposing over $1 trillion a year in regulations – that the average American can no longer get his voice heard.

If you’re big in America and you have a grievance with government you hire a high priced lobbyist to get it fixed. If you dream of one day being big, you’re left screaming until your frustration becomes a movement which washes the establishment out of Washington. Sen. Harkin’s 400 lobbyist friends should keep that in mind.

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