By Robert Craycraft
Asbestos was once used as a flame-retardant and for electrical insulation in buildings, ships and homes. Before it was discovered to cause cancer, millions of American workers and veterans handled and were otherwise exposed to deadly asbestos fibers.
An unknown amount of the hazardous material is still present in our communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that roughly 3,000 people continue to die from mesothelioma and asbestosis every year; some experts estimate the death toll is as high as 10,000 annually when other types of asbestos-linked diseases and cancers are included.
In early February, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law held a hearing on H.R. 526, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (or FACT Act). Generally speaking, the more transparency the better. However, in this case, the asbestos industry is using the guise of “transparency” to push the FACT Act as a way to delay compensation to asbestos victims and their families. The bill would require the trusts that manage victim compensation to retroactively compile information on all claims they’ve paid and to require the trusts to answer any and all information requests by asbestos company defendants.
These paperwork requirements could have the effect of slowing or even stopping the important work of the trusts to compensate victims that have developed deadly diseases like mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) called the FACT Act a “Trojan horse” which “guarantees that the insurance companies pay as little as possible.”
Today, President Barack Obama released the budget for what will cover his last year in office.
Even though he called for a greater emphasis on “middle-class economics” during the State of the Union address, the president’s budget does not go far enough to make sure that Wall Street and corporations pay their fair share of the cost of government. Notably missing from the budget is a strong stance on closing international tax loopholes and an important tax on stock, bond and derivative trades.
President Obama’s budget addressed the problem of international tax loopholes, but only partially. Though he proposed repatriating corporate profits stashed offshore, he should have proposed bringing these taxes back at a much higher rate. The 14 percent he proposed for immediate taxation to fund infrastructure investments is much too low, since multinational corporations have been milking a bevy of tax breaks for years. Though the president proposes taxing future overseas profits at 19 percent, and compared to the current statutory rate of 35 percent, that’s still leaving a lot on the table of the $2 trillion of profits estimated to be stashed offshore.
Granted, Obama’s 19 percent repatriation proposal is itself stronger than what U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently unveiled — a plan to shore up the depleted Highway Trust Fund by repatriating offshore taxes at the bargain-basement rate of only 6.5 percent. The 2015 bipartisan infrastructure reparation proposal is only slightly more than 1 percent higher than the 5.25 percent rate used in the well-documented failure of a similar experiment in 2004. Boxer and Paul’s 2015 proposal is a revenue loser, similar proposals are expected to cost in the range of $100 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. Repatriation holidays such as these are major giveaways that will reward corporations that have for years avoided paying taxes by using accounting gimmicks to shift profits to the books of related foreign corporations.
The congressional leaders who negotiated $1.1 trillion federal spending bill – dubbed the “CRomnibus” – must not have known they were in for a fight.
But when Public Citizen and other public interest allies got hold of the 1,600-page bill and saw that it contained a bevy of atrocious policy riders that had nothing to do with funding the government, the fight was coming.
The take-it-or-leave-it budget – including the poison pill provisions that Public Citizen opposed – did ultimately pass. The fight for its passage is instructive for how public interest advocates can wield power in the coming years, even as majorities in Congress seem determined to deliver a return on Corporate America’s Citizens United-enabled election investments.
The worst that could have happened would have been if the giveaways to corporations and the super rich had been accepted without a fight.
Thankfully, that’s not what happened.
We called on grassroots activists like you to act – to email and call your members of Congress – and you acted.
Tens of thousands of outraged citizens made it known that they would not accept a budget bill that allows millionaires and billionaires to have more influence in our elections and that puts taxpayers on the hook for Wall Street’s recklessness.
And then – hearing the outrage of tens of thousands of constituents across the country – principled members of Congress (of both major parties) fought the bipartisan backroom deal.
We’ve just seen the worst that Washington has to offer with the “cromnibus” government spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last night.
Instead of Congress passing a clean funding bill along lines that were previously agreed to and had bipartisan acceptance, Big Business exercised its insider influence and took advantage of an artificially rushed and secretive process to cut deals to enhance the political influence of the super-rich, put taxpayers on the hook – again – for Wall Street recklessness and make our roads less safe.
Moneyed interests maneuvered to eviscerate campaign spending rules, so that a super-rich couple may now contribute up to $3 million to a national political party in a single (two-year) election cycle. It’s a certainty that this move will be followed up by calls to “level the playing field” and permit the same monstrous contributions to candidates and political committees.
Wall Street called on its friends to include a Citigroup-drafted provision that would roll back a key Dodd-Frank measure that was designed to prevent Big Banks from using taxpayer-insured money to bet in the derivatives markets. With the top four banks responsible for 93 percent of derivatives activities in the United States, there is zero question about which entities will benefit. Nor who will pay; when the next financial crisis comes – as it will, as certainly as the calendar changes – taxpayers will be forced to pay for Wall Street gambling on derivatives.
At the behest of the trucking industry, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins included in the spending bill a provision to override rules to reduce truck driver fatigue, which risks the lives of truckers and other drivers.
These are only some of the known giveaways in the spending bill. It will probably take many weeks, or longer, before all of the industry deals are discovered.
As serious and troubling as are these measures, there is reason to fear worse is to come. Even though it opposed many of these harmful provisions, the White House pushed for approval of the overall spending deal, which had to overcome substantial opposition from members of Congress in both parties. If this is the kind of “bipartisanship” we’re going to see in the coming two years, the country is facing dire prospects indeed.