Outside the door of a Senate meeting room recently, Sen. James B. Alien (D-Ala.) was huddling with Al Bourland, a notorious anti-consumer GM lobbyist. The filibuster-prone senator was exchanging strategies and information about the Consumer Protection Bill (S.200) which he has opposed for five years.
Allen then joined the other senators on the committee to vote on provisions to include in the bill. Sitting at the table in the committee room, he assumed his pose as a conservative southern senator expressing his independent conviction against the federal bureaucracy.
Is Allen such a senator or does his polite Alabaman drawl mask the typical special interest pleader, such as Sen. Bill Brock (R-Tenn.) or Sen. Robert Griffin (R-Mich.) who help indenture the Senate to big business?
Allen’s real behavior supports the latter interpretation. Consider the following:
The junior senator from Alabama was handsomely supported in last year’s election by tens of thousands of dollars of business contributions, including sizeable ones from the oil industry inside and outside the state, even though he ran unopposed.
The petroleum moguls must have been pleased watching Allen last year successfully filibustering an attempt by liberal senators to repeal the oil depletion allowance. His campaign finance reports, though often very general, still manage to disclose contributions from corporations vigorously opposing the consumer bill, including Scars and the mortgage bankers.
°Asserting fairness, Allen opposed the exemption of broadcasters from the purview of the consumer bill’s advocacy rights before the Federal Communications Commission. This is a tactic designed to get the broadcasters and their favorite senators to oppose the consumer bill.
Allen’s real position, well known to the broadcasters, was reflected in his vote last year on H.R. 12993, a bill to change from three years to five the period for which licenses to broadcast on the public airwaves are granted, further removing the broadcasters from consumer accountability.
Allen introduced his own toothless version of a consumer bill two years ago as a decoy. In fact, despite his expertise on Senate rules, he seems not to know what’s in his own bill.
He took Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to task for proposing an amendment that would expend grants to help state and local governments establish stronger consumer agencies. Yet in his own bill,
Allen has a section doing much the same thing that would cost at least as much. Allen says that S. 200 would not help the consumers of Alabama — a rather patronizing ignorance of the bill’s explicit assistance to American consumers. His own state attorney general, William Baxley, came to Washington last month to testify before Alien and the other senators on precisely how this legislation would help consumers.
WHEN WE referred a number of consumer complaints from Alabamans to Senator Allen’s office for assistance several weeks ago, he ignored them. Every one of the 12 consumers from Alabama told us they had never heard from Senator Allen on their complaints.
As a clever politician, Allen rarely comes out and says he is supporting big business. Rather he couches his arguments in procedural objections or engages in sallies against bureaucracies. He is not known, however, as a fighter against the kind of federal bureaucratic waste and corruption that benefits corporations.
For example, he remained silent on Pentagon waste totaling billions of dollars and the unconscionable taxpayer subsidy to giant agribusiness. But oh, how indignant he can wax against an inflation-and-waste-fighting consumer protection agency that would represent the forgotten American consumer in Washington.
The projected three-year budget for this agency is $60 million to save consumers and taxpayers billions of dollars. The government shells out more than $60 million in tax subsidies every four days to the oil industry, and the Pentagon spends this amount in six hours.
WHAT EMERGES from a closer observation of Allen’s performance is the presence of a ruthless parliamentarian fighting against legislative compassion and justice in the polite guise of a small-town conservative. He can always be counted on to oppose senatorial attempts at curbing the vast power of industry over ordinary citizens.
Allen’s power in the Senate, such as it is, stems not only from big business support like Exxon and GM but also from the weakness of the liberal majority. By their absenteeism from the Senate floor, their lack of close knowledge of the Senate’s rules and the absence of decisive policy leadership, many liberals manage to carry their majority into defeat all too often:
When the consumer bill comes to the Senate floor in April, it will be interesting to see if the liberals can master the legislative craftsmanship of their convictions.