An emerging, unique coalition of liberal and conservative groups is giving fits to giant corporations on the dole in Washington. These are the companies which are demanding subsidies, bailouts and other special considerations because they are mismanaged or they dislike marketplace risk or they are just plain greedy.
Less than a decade ago, liberal and conservative citizen action groups could never be seen even talking to one another. They were either arrayed against one another on the issues or they were working separate fields on Capitol Hill. Then in the mid—Seventies the two groups found themselves often, testifying at Congressional hearings against the cushy cartels of the “regulated” airline and trucking industries. Actually these industries were using government to fix their prices and limit the entry of competitors.
Then along came some of the biggest corporate welfare grabs in modern times. Taxpayers’ money was pouring into the dubious breeder reactor project in Tennessee. The cost overruns kept mushrooming at a rate that would have embarrassed the Pentagon.
Public Citizen and the National Taxpayers Union began a grass roots campaign on the basis that if the electric utilities wanted the breeder, let them pay the $7 billion eventual ticket price. Uncle Sugar was running out of sweets but year after year could not say no to the utility lobby and its powerful friend, Senator Howard Baker. This year, the coalition dealt the Breeder lobby a decisive defeat and expects to repeat that victory on another Reagan-backed plan to keep the Breeder project afloat.
Two years ago along came the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline consortium of profitable oil and gas companies to demand from Congress that consumers be required to bear the risk of the project up to a possible amount of $40 billion. Greased by campaign money and an expedient collection of Democratic and Republican lobbying firms, the bill passed the Senate in a breeze. Then the liberal and conservative groups began working on the House. They lost, but the vote was close enough and the adverse publicity clear enough that the presently stalled consortium is not likely to come back for more welfare.
The synfuels program, started by Jimmy Carter and backed by Ronald “free market” Reagan, could be the biggest boondoggle yet. Exxon and other companies have abandoned synfuel projects in the Rocky Mountain states even with Washington’s generous guarantees of loans and final market price. Still too risky for Exxon et al. The Council for a Competitive Economy (CCE), a conservative group, has kept up a steady opposition to such subsidies in conjunction with several consumer groups. CCE also dispatched a team to Detroit in 1981 to side with the Poletown Community against General Motors displacing, with City Hall’s backing, their neighborhood for a Cadillac plant. General Motors, a notably wealthy company, is receiving some $300 million in federal, state and local subsidies.
During the past several weeks, the conservative-liberal alliance took up the struggle against Mr. Reagan’s legislation that would have the US contribute another $8.4 billion to the International Monetary Fund.
The money would be loaned to Third World countries such as Brazil and Mexico to assist in paying the exorbitantly high interest rate loans by the New York banks. An indirect bailout for these banks, which gives these firms greater profits, is viewed as unfair to millions of Americans–consumers and businesses–who cannot get credit at reasonable rates. The IMF’s credits will not be used to help the Third World peoples’; they will simply become part of an electronic boomerang from Washington to Rio, Buenos Aires and Mexico City back to the New York banks. And the impoverished mass populations will be subjected to further IMF austerity measures in return for these credits. The Reagan bill does not deal with the international debt crisis; it only postpones the crisis briefly.
Swinging into grass roots action were Free the Eagle, the National Taxpayers Union and several liberal groups including the Environmental Policy Center and the Social Concerns Board of the United Methodist Church. The vote in the House was 217 to 211 for Mr. Reagan’s bank bailout bill. Up against the big bank lobby, the Reagan Administration and the Democratic House leadership, the new coalition came close to a stunning upset. And the battle resumes after Labor Day when the House-Senate Conference agreement goes back to the House and Senate.
There are still many issues–environmental and consumer protection standards, and social service programs–that divide conservatives and liberals. But month by month they are forging an ever more effective unity against the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars given to undeserving, grasping companies. In so doing, the conservatives are beginning to realize the difference between themselves and corporatists like Ronald Reagan. That could mean something during the 1984 elections.