'The Select Few' Are Cashing in:
Shocking Corruption at the Washington Post
by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship,
www.alternet.org/, July 12, 2009
If you want to know what really matters in Washington, don't go
to Capitol Hill for one of those hearings, or pay attention to
those staged White House "town meetings." They're just
for show. What really happens -- the serious business of Washington
-- happens in the shadows, out of sight, off the record. Only
occasionally -- and usually only because someone high up stumbles
-- do we get a glimpse of just how pervasive the corruption has
Case in point: Katharine Weymouth, the
publisher of The Washington Post -- one of the most powerful people
in DC -- invited top officials from the White House, the Cabinet
and Congress to her home for an intimate, off-the-record dinner
to discuss health care reform with some of her reporters and editors
covering the story.
But CEOs and lobbyists from the health
care industry were invited, too, provided they forked over $25,000
a head -- or up to a quarter of a million if they want to sponsor
a whole series of these cozy get-togethers. And what is the inducement
offered? Nothing less, the invitation read, than "an exclusive
opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among
the select few who will get it done."
The invitation reminds the CEO's and lobbyists
that they will be buying access to "those powerful few in
business and policy making who are forwarding, legislating and
reporting on the issues...
"Spirited? Yes. Confrontational?
No." The invitation promises this private, intimate and off-the-record
dinner is an extension "of The Washington Post brand of journalistic
inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders
to hear and be heard."
Let that sink in. In this case, the "stakeholders"
in health care reform do not include the rabble -- the folks across
the country who actually need quality health care but can't afford
it. If any of them showed up at the kitchen door on the night
of this little soiree, the bouncer would drop kick them beyond
No, before you can cross the threshold
to reach "the select few who will actually get it done,"
you must first cross the palm of some outstretched hand. The Washington
Post dinner was canceled after a copy of the invite was leaked
to the web site Politico.com, by a health care lobbyist, of all
people. The paper said it was a misunderstanding -- the document
was a draft that had been mailed out prematurely by its marketing
department. There's noblesse oblige for you -- blame it on the
In any case, it was enough to give us
a glimpse into how things really work in Washington -- a clear
insight into why there is such a great disconnect between democracy
and government today, between Washington and the rest of the country.
According to one poll after another, a
majority of Americans not only want a public option in health
care, they also think that growing inequality is bad for the country,
that corporations have too much power over policy, that money
in politics is the root of all evil, that working families and
poor communities need and deserve public support if the market
system fails to generate shared prosperity.
But when the insiders in Washington have
finished tearing worthy intentions apart and devouring flesh from
bone, none of these reforms happen. "Oh," they say,
"it's all about compromise. All in the nature of the give-and-take-negotiating
of a representative democracy."
That, people, is bull -- the basic nutrient
of Washington's high and mighty.
It's not about compromise. It's not about
what the public wants. It's about money -- the golden ticket to
"the select few who actually get it done."
When Congress passed the Helping Families
Save Their Homes Act, "the select few" made sure it
no longer contained the cramdown provision that would have allowed
judges to readjust mortgages. The one provision that would have
helped homeowners the most was removed in favor of an industry
that pours hundreds of millions into political campaigns.
So, too, with a bill designed to protect
us from terrorist attacks on chemical plants. With "the select
few" dictating marching orders, hundreds of factories are
being exempted from measures that would make them spend money
to prevent the release of toxic clouds that could kill hundreds
Everyone knows the credit ratings agencies
were co-conspirators with Wall Street in the shameful wilding
that brought on the financial meltdown. But when the Obama administration
came up with new reforms to prevent another crisis, the credit
ratings agencies were given a pass. They'd been excused by "the
select few who actually get it done."
And by the time an energy bill emerged
from the House of Representatives the other day, "the select
few who actually get it done" had given away billions of
dollars worth of emission permits and offsets. As The New York
Times reported, while the legislation worked its way to the House
floor, "It grew fat with compromises, carve-outs, concessions
and out-and-out gifts," expanding from 648 pages to 1400
as it spread its largesse among big oil and gas, utility companies
This week, the public interest groups
Common Cause and the Center for Responsive Politics reported that,
"According to lobby disclosure reports, 34 energy companies
registered in the first quarter of 2009 to lobby Congress around
the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. This group
of companies spent a total of $23.7 million -- or $260,000 a day
-- lobbying members of Congress in January, February and March.
"Many of these same companies also
made large contributions to the members of the Senate Environment
and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation
and held a hearing this week on the proposed 'cap and trade' system
energy companies are fighting. Data shows oil and gas companies,
mining companies and electric utilities combined have given more
than $2 million just to the 19 members of the Senate Environment
and Public Works Committee since 2007, the start of the last full
It's happening to health care as well.
Even the pro-business magazine The Economist says America has
the worst system in the developed world, controlled by executives
who are not held to account and investors whose primary goal is
raising share price and increasing profit -- while wasting $450
billion dollars in redundant administrative costs and leaving
nearly 50 million uninsured.
Enter "the select few who actually
get it done." Three out of four of the big health care firms
lobbying on Capitol Hill have former members of Congress or government
staff members on the payroll -- more than 350 of them -- and they're
all fighting hard to prevent a public option, at a rate in excess
of $1.4 million a day.
Health care policy has become insider
heaven. Even Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House health reform
director, served on the boards of several major health care corporations.
President Obama has pushed hard for a
public option but many fear he's wavering, and just this week
his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel -- the insider di tutti insiders
-- indicated that a public plan just might be negotiable, ready
for reengineering, no doubt, by "the select few who actually
get it done."
That's how it works. And it works that
way because we let it. The game goes on and the insiders keep
dealing themselves winning hands. Nothing will change -- nothing
-- until the money lenders are tossed out of the temple, the ATM's
are wrested from the marble halls, and we tear down the sign they've
placed on government -- the one that reads, "For Sale."
Bill Moyers is president of the Schumann
Center for Media and Democracy.
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