Listing to Portman

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The Grand Bargain marches ever onward. Lindsey Boerma of CBS News reports:

Republicans would be willing to tender more revenue in a deal to replace the sequester, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said today on “Face the Nation,” if President Obama showed willingness to make “structural changes” to entitlement programs.

Part of Congress’s bipartisan supercommittee tasked with crafting a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion, Portman said he and his colleagues came “very close” to striking a “balanced” compromise that partnered spending cuts with revenue to replace the blind, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration before they went into effect March 1. “The problem,” he said, was that Democrats’ proposal to generate revenue fell back on tax hikes, two months after the so-called “fiscal cliff” package upped income taxes on families making more than $450,000 a year.

“We had tax reforms [in the failed plan], which helps grow the economy,” Portman said.

Portman’s statement makes the distinction between “tax reforms” — lowering corporate tax rates while removing loopholes are the reforms currently under discussion — and tax increases, and the Obama Administration has more than once signaled its desire for tax reforms as well. And “structural changes” to entitlements frequently refers to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid effected by altering the cost-of-living formulas, another approach the Administration has said it is willing to agree to. The difficulty both parties face is getting their members and voters to embrace the betrayals of principle the eventual agreement would require.

The one obvious winner in such a deal would be large corporations, whose taxes would be cut and who could subsequently lobby to restore any loopholes temporarily suspended. Perhaps not surprisingly, Portman, a Finance Committee member and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under George W. Bush, takes in plenty of campaign contributions from Ohio Republican billionaire investors. Portman’s number one contributor was the Cincinnati insurance and investment company American Financial Group (AFG). Until his death in 2011, Carl Lindner, Jr. owned and ran AFG; he was one of the richest people in the world and a prominent Republican donor, with AFG giving Portman alone over a quarter million dollars. (Lindner’s ice cream company United Dairy Farmers also gave $55,000, ranking 17th.) AFG’s legal representatives, Cincinnati firm Keating Muething & Kleklamp (KMK) ranked 12th. (One of its founding partners, Charles Keating, Jr., later served several years in jail as part of the Keating Five savings and loan scandal.) “Vulture fund” Elliott Management, an investment bank dealing with “distressed debt”, ranked third on Portman’s list, giving $115,000; its founder and CEO Paul Singer is another major Republican contributor. Likewise Mercer Reynolds of investment firm Reynolds, DeWitt & Co. (18th with $54,000) was George W. Bush’s campaign finance chair.

Investment and professional service corporations outside Ohio also look kindly on Portman. These include mutual fund mammoth FMR Corp. (Fidelity) (sixth), “Big Four” banking giants Citigroup (ninth) and JPMorgan Chase (11th), insurance multinational MetLife (tenth), and Edward Jones Investments (15th). Accounting firm Ernst & Young (seventh) and the world’s largest advertising company WPP Group (14th) also made large donations.

Many of his donors come from in-state, however. Cincinnati-based purveyors of pet food and personal care products Procter & Gamble (second) plunked down $179,000 for Portman, while Cincinnati laundry company and KMK client Cintas Corp. (eighth) may well clean up the sheets, towels and uniforms manufactured and distributed by Standard Textile (16th). Cleveland-based legal practice Squire Sanders (fourth), for whom Portman worked after resigning as George W. Bush’s OMB director, gave him over $100,000. Ohio’s main corporate law firm Thomspon Hine (13th), and Ohio-based BakerHostetler (20th).

Other contributors to Portman include the third-largest company in the world, General Electric (fifth) and real estate developers North American Properties (19th).

Calling Collins

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Start shopping for cat food — the austerity crowd in Washington DC is gathering to cut the benefits you’ve already paid for. As Richard Cowan and Steve Holland of Reuters reported yesterday:

Gene Sperling, the White House senior economic official, said on the CNN program “State of the Union” on Sunday that Obama was contacting to lawmakers to talk about compromises that could include reforms to both the tax code and entitlement programs, which include Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare health care for the elderly and disabled.

***

An aide to Collins, a moderate, told Reuters that she spoke to Obama on Monday afternoon and they talked about “the need for a bipartisan agreement on several critical issues,” such as how to rein in the $16.7 trillion U.S. debt and the sequestration cuts.

Since Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) is being wooed by the White House in an effort to punish the poor even further, it seems like a good time to examine who her major donors have been. It’s perhaps not surprising that many of them are wealthy investors and corporations.

Collins’s top donor was credit card colossus MBNA, which was acquired by Bank of America in 2006. Other investment banks/financial services firms contributing to the Maine Republican include “vulture fund” Elliott Management (eighth) and Goldman Sachs (11th), as well as accounting mainstay Ernst & Young (20th).

Military aerospace contractors drop plenty of money into the campaigns of the Northeastern Republican, who sits on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. She’s received money from General Dynamics (second), Raytheon (ninth), and the Hartford, CT, based United Technologies Corporation (14th).

Collins, who was lobbied heavily from all sides on Obamacare, also received lots of attention from medical industry donors. These included health insurance behemoth Blue Cross Blue Shield (fourth); physicians’ group the American Medical Association (15th); Groton, CT, pharmaceutical megabusiness Pfizer (16th); health care trade group the American Hospital Association (17th); and Hartford, CT, managed health care corporation Aetna (19th).

Other major donors to Collins include The Wish List (third), a political action committee devoted to electing pro-choice Republican women in the Senate and House; worldwide hoteliers Marriott (sixth); telecom player Verizon (seventh); international law firm Blank Rome (seventh); massive media conglomerate Time Warner (tenth); the largest pulp and paper company in the world, International Paper (12th); package delivery corporation the United Parcel Service (UPS) (13th); and mailing and shipping company Pitney Bowes (18th).

***

Side note: There is no family relation (that I know of) between me and former Maine Representative Tom Allen, Collins’s Democratic opponent for the Senate in 2008.

Money to Coburn

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The budgetary axe falls on the first of March, and the headsmen sound regretful. Writes David Kerley of ABC News’s “The Note”:

Believe it or not, there is some bipartisan agreement in Washington, D.C. The problem is Republicans and Democrats agree those automatic spending cuts known as the “sequester” will probably start on Friday, the deadline for a budget agreement.

***

The cuts set to be triggered on Friday will range from 5 percent to 7 percent for most government departments. They will be phased in over the next six months. Workers, who may be furloughed for up to three weeks, will get 30 days warning before they must stay home.

The battle now isn’t how to avoid the sequester, once considered so drastic that lawmakers would be forced to negotiate an alternative; it’s how and where to apportion the blame. Some Senators, such as Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) have already hit the talk shows to begin the spin. Lindsey Boerma of CBS News reported Sunday:

“The crisis is made up – it’s been created,” Coburn continued. “We see all these claims about what a tragedy it’s going to be. The great example is, is if the secretary of transportation can assure us all the planes are going to be safe, then the Department of Homeland Security can assure us that we can get through the airports on time. They have plenty of flexibility in terms of discretion on how they spend money.”

Though he said he didn’t support the cuts, scheduled during the debt ceiling debate in 2011, because “that’s a stupid way to cut spending,” Coburn said sequestration may be “the only way Washington, Republicans and Democrats are ever going to get out of both parties some spending cuts.” The president’s idea to replace the sequester with a package that balances spending cuts and revenue through tax hikes, he said, is a “straw man” setup.

Coburn, the ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, oversees the budgets of the DHS and the federal civil service as a whole. As he’s likely to be in the news more in the coming weeks, I thought it time to look at who he receives his campaign funds from.

Coburn’s top donor is conservative anti-tax 501(c) group the Club for Growth, which has given him over $65,000 since 1994. He’s also received significant funds from other conservative issue donors such as energy billionaires Koch Industries (sixth) and Senator Saxby Chambliss’s political action committee the Republican Majority Fund (ninth).

An obstetrician who once worked for his father, a prominent optician, Senator Coburn has accepted numerous donations from medical practitioners. The American Society of Anesthesiologists (fourth) and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (fifth) each gave him nearly $40,000. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (seventh), the American Medical Association (eighth), Oklahoma City’s Neuroscience Specialists (11th), and the American Dental Association (15th) all injected funds into the Senator’s campaigns.

Various trade associations figure prominently on Coburn’s list. The National Auto Dealers Association (tenth), the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors (12th), the National Beer Wholesalers Association (13th), the National Federation of Independent Business (16th), the largest trade group of them all, the National Association of Realtors (18th), and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (20th) have backed the highly conservative Oklahoman.

Other prominent contributors to Coburn include Cummins-American Corp. (third), an Illinois firm specializing in money-sorting equipment for banks, automatic vendors and the like; humungous telecom multinational AT&T (second); Swiss investment bank UBS (14th); and Texas-based oil and gas companies ConocoPhilips (17th) and Andarko Petroleum (19th).

Green with Enzi

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Prepare for another heaping helping of austerity. With a little over a week left before massive cuts to the federal discretionary budget occur on March 1, prospects of a deal are looking dimmer. Democrats and Republicans in Washington, DC, seem nowhere close to agreement, and some Senators are confident none will be reached.

Dustin Bleizeffer of WyoFile reports:

While on his public “listening” tour in Wyoming Monday, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) told a small audience in Casper, “Sequestration is going to happen. The plans that are being offered won’t pass,” echoing comments made by his U.S. Senate colleague John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) on CNN Sunday.

Enzi sits on the Senate Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over taxes and entitlements, as well as the Budget Committee, which sets the broad goals for federal spending. Since his vote will be courted this week and during the battles in March and beyond, I decided to examine his top twenty donors, listed on OpenSecrets.org.

Holding a seat on the Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight, Enzi receives plenty of money from accountants. His top contributor, donating nearly twice as much as any other source, is auditing firm Deloitte with $61,000. Ernst & Young (12th), another of the Big Four accounting firms, gave $26,000. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (fifth) threw in $30,000, while the American Bankers Association (third) deposited $30,500.

Health insurance supremo Blue Cross Blue Shield (second) has given $31,500 to the member of the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee member. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists gave him $25,500, and global pharmaceutical concern Abbott Laboratories (19th) injected $22,500.

As a member of the Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure, Enzi has received numerous donations from the corporations he writes regulations for. These include fuel retailers who sell at the pump, the National Association of Convenience Stores (tenth); coal and other mineral providers the National Mining Association (11th); oil and gas behemoth Exxon Mobil (15th), the world’s largest company by revenue; and Arch Coal (16th) and Foundation Coal (18th), which operate mines in Wyoming and several other states.

Also pitching in heavily to Enzi are fuel-using transportation interests such as the Union Pacific Corporation (fourth), which runs the railroad of the same name; the National Automobile Dealers Association (sixth); and package shipping specialists United Parcel Service (seventh).

Others of Enzi’s top twenty donors include the largest trade association in the US, the National Association of Realtors (eighth); telecom multinational AT&T (ninth); union shop foes the Associated Builders and Contractors (14th); the National Restaurant Association (17th); and the National Beer Wholesalers Association (20th).

List of Murray

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Contractionary policy is contractionary, as Atrios likes to say. And with the March 1 sequestration due a week from Friday, a massive contraction to our still-awful economy seems unavoidable.

Senate Democrats have decided to fight for mild contraction instead, and even then have started negotiations midfield to the Republican position. In an interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel on February 14th, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said:

What I proposed, along with the other members of our caucus, was to do 50-50 replacement: 50 percent revenue, 50 percent responsible spending cuts as a replacement for this year’s sequestration. I am being supported by all of my caucus.

David Lightman of McClatchy summarizes the details:

The plan includes $55 billion in new tax revenue from a minimum 30 percent tax on most millionaires and ending some oil industry tax breaks and a benefit that encourages companies to ship jobs overseas. Another $55 billion would be saved by cutting $27.5 billion from defense – exactly what is not specific – and saving $27.5 billion by ending direct payments to farmers. All savings are calculated over a 10-year period.

Both tax hikes and spending cuts are contractionary, of course, no matter what the ratio. And more of the same is looming. So, as the budget battles surrounding the March first sequestration deadline, the debt ceiling that will be reached later this spring, and the 2014 appropriations begin to fire up, I decided to look at the major contributors to Murray, who is the chair of the Senate Budget Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Several of Murray’s more prominent contributors are liberal issue-oriented organizations. Giving $665,000 since her first campaign in 1992, Murray’s top donor by far was EMILY’s List, a political action committee (PAC) focused on electing pro-choice Democratic women to office. Arms control lobbying group the Council for a Livable World (sixth) gave Murray nearly $74,000, while progressive policy non-profit MoveOn.org came in ninth with $64,000.

More than half of Murray’s largest donors are located or have headquarters in the state of Washington. Second on her list, with its headquarters in Redmond, is Microsoft, the multinational software Borg; Microsoft’s PAC comes in fourth. The University of Washington in Seattle ranked third, and the State of Washington eighth. Other home-state donors on the list: Seattle-based aerospace and defense company Boeing (fifth) and online retailers Amazon.com (11th); Denny Miller Associates (12th), which lobbies for numerous Washington corporations (including UDub and Boeing); corporate lawyers Perkins Coie (13th), with a sizable presence in Seattle; warehouse club Costco (14th), with its headquarters in Issaquah, WA; now defunct Seattle law firm Preston Gates & Ellis (15th), which once employed Jack Abramoff; and Washington timber company Weyerhaeuser (16th).

Rounding off her top twenty are biotech ultraheavyweight Amgen (seventh), which got a sweetheart deal in January’s fiscal cliff bill; the Seafarers International Union (tenth); ill-starred cruise company Carnival (17th); airline holding company United Continental Holdings (18th); teachers’ union the National Education Administration (19th); and US health insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield (20th).

Hatch’s plans

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How can the government squeeze more money out of the elderly? Raise the Medicare eligibility age, privatize the program, and block grant Medicaid, suggests Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Sound familiar? It’s essentially the Clinton-Gingrich pact from 1997 that only fell apart because of the President’s blow job. Now, with another conservative Democrat in the White House and Republican in the Speaker’s chair, the plan’s being floated again.

As Shamus Cooke of Global Research wrote today:

The main reason that health care reform became a national priority for Obama is because it was a priority for big business: corporations have long complained that their employee health care costs were too high. And they’ve always hated paying payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Obama has responded gallantly to these grievances, as he did to the banks when they demanded to be bailed out with taxpayer money.

Obama has remained mostly quiet about his Medicare plans, but has stated repeatedly ” all options are on the table” (his favorite Bushism). The secretiveness is based on the unpopularity of the options, all of which have already been openly discussed in the media in the last two years of bi-partisan “Grand Bargain” haggling.

Orrin Hatch, as the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, will play a central role in the budget kabuki this month and afterward. In preparation, I’ve taken a look at Hatch’s top twenty career donors from OpenSecrets.org.

Many of the Senator’s contributions come from the pharmaceutical and health care industries. His top donor, giving him over $110,000 since 1989, was health insurance behemoth Blue Cross Blue Shield. Supplemental health insurance company Aflac (fourth) contributed $82,000. The world’s largest pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, came in third. Competitors GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly were fifth and sixth. Pharma multinational Amgen (ninth); kidney dialysis supply company Fresenius Medical Care (12th); rehabilitative hospital operators HealthSouth (15th); and Schering-Plough (17th), now merged with Merck & Co.

Two of Hatch’s top twenty donors have specific Utah ties: O. C. Tanner (seventh), a Salt Lake City human resources company; Provo-based direct-sales supplement marketers Nu Skin Enterprises (20th).

The rest of the Senator’s list contains an amalgam of wealthy corporations. Cerberus Capital Management, an investment firm, ranked second with $106,500. Also contributing significant amounts were hotel franchisor Marriott International (eighth); London advertising giant WPP (tenth); telecom multinational AT&T (11th); computer company Oracle (13th); supermajor oil and gas corporation Chevron (14th); the sixth-largest firm in the US, conglomerate General Electric (16th); accounting powerhouse Ernst & Young (18th); and international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (19th).

Jessica Zigmond of Modern Healthcare reports the roles Obama and Hatch have chosen — and that both wish to champion “entitlement reform”, and are only haggling over what form those cuts will take.

The president reiterated his view that the ideal way to reduce the deficit is through a deal that includes both spending cuts and tax reform. And if Congress can’t agree on a larger deal by March 1, Obama added, lawmakers should pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would also further delay the sequester for a few more months.

“I’ve offered sensible reforms to Medicare and other entitlements, and my healthcare proposals achieve the same amount of savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms that have been proposed by the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission,” the president said.

***

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member on the influential Senate Finance Committee…. chastised the president’s plan to delay the looming sequester.

“When it comes to our debt, we need to focus on structural entitlement reforms,” Hatch said in a statement.

Dollars for Udall

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Should John Brennan expect the Spanish Inquisition? At the Senate hearing scheduled for Thursday, February 7, Mark Udall (D-Colorado) can be expected to grill the nominee about his past support for torture, as Brennan seeks to be confirmed as Director of the CIA. A preliminary meeting between the two men did not go well, writes Denver reporter Eli Stokols:

“I was deeply disappointed today during my meeting with John Brennan,” Udall said. “A few weeks ago, I had asked that he be prepared to discuss at today’s meeting the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s comprehensive study on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program.

“Not only was he not prepared to discuss the important findings, but he hadn’t reviewed the report at all,” Udall continued.

“Brennan promised today to review the findings before the Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing next Thursday. I intend to hold him to that promise, and I hope Mr. Brennan will be more forthcoming in his testimony next week.

Yesterday I looked at the list of top contributors to Carl Levin, who was also at that meeting; today I’ll look at fellow Senate Armed Services Committee member Mark Udall.

The legal industry gives more to Udall than any other group. A few individual firms placed among his top twenty contributors, such as his biggest donor, Denver’s real estate lawyers Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which gave the Senator just over $100,000 since 1998. DC-based legal/lobbying powerhouse Patton Boggs, which has an office in Denver, ranked fifth, and Denver’s corporate lawyers Holland & Hart came in sixth. Trial lawyer lobbying group the American Association for Justice ranked eighth.

Numerous unions give generously to the Democratic Senator, making up almost half his top twenty. The Teamsters, one of the largest unions in the world, have donated $64,000 to Udall making them his seventh biggest contributor. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ranked ninth; the United Food and Commercial Workers Union tenth; the Service Employees International Union eleventh; AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 13th; the United Auto Workers 14th; the Communication Workers of America 18th; and the Air Line Pilots Association, the Carpenters and Joiners Union, and the United Steelworkers all tied for 20th, pitching in $45,000 apiece.

Other top donors to the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks include environmental groups such as the League of Conservation Voters, Udall’s second largest contributor with just under $100,000, and the Sierra Club (12th), with half that amount; internet service provider Level 3 Communications (third) of Broomfield, Colorado; the University of Colorado (fourth); employee-owned engineering and construction firm CH2M Hill (15th) and satellite TV corporation Dish Network (16th), both of Meridian. The Credit Union National Association (17th) and multinational media conglomerate Time Warner (19th) round out Udall’s list.

Udall’s refusal to “look forward, not backward” on torture is commendable, particularly given his colleagues’ acquiescence in the cover-up. On budget matters, however, he becomes a typical DC Democrat, advocating a bipartisan budget plan like Bowles-Simspon:

There should be no higher priority for this Congress than crafting a balanced, comprehensive and bipartisan deficit-reduction plan along the lines of Simpson-Bowles. To do anything short of a longterm grand bargain is unacceptable and only sets us back into the old ruts of impasse that created the problem in the first place. Coloradans deserve better.

To be sure, we will have our disagreements along the way. Both sides will have to make hard choices about seemingly sacred programs or uncompromising pledges. But true sacrifice and compromise are the only ways we, the Congress, and we, the people, can confront our budget challenges and turn this heavy yoke into an opportunity.

Only a politician who looks on voters as cattle would see a yoke as an opportunity — at least for the drivers.