Skip to content
Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform

The 32 member Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform, chaired by Senators Bob Kerrey (D-NB) and John Danforth (R-MO) had its first public hearing a few days ago to see where and how to cut social security, medicare, medicaid, food stamps and veterans benefits. No one mentioned the three taboos.

The Senators were self-righteous in what they believed was their noble cause to cut the deficit and the national debt. Taboo number one was unmentioned — namely, were the members of the Congress prepared to lead by example and cut their entitlements such as supergenerous pensions, perks and medical services.

Testifying before the Commission were representatives of elderly, patient, veterans and retirees’ advocacy groups. They all said that they have had to sacrifice enough in recent years, enduring cutbacks in COLAs, benefits and programs especially during the past two years of budget-cutting. Taboo number two went unmentioned — namely, that the rise in these social welfare programs reflected sharp price increases by the health and other related industries that embodied greed, inefficiency and plain old corruption.

Medicare and medicaid are not skyrocketing in cost because benefits are increasing; they are increasing due to growing populations of the elderly and the poor and the gouging, far-faster-than inflation price rises of hospitals, physicians, drug companies and the costly bureaucracy (private and public) that has grown around them.

In addition, the General Accounting Office, an investigatory arm of Congress, reported in May 1992 that about $70 billion (one tenth of the then health care expenditures) is the cost just of billing and other connected health overcharges.

Then there were the missing witnesses who will never by called upon by the Commission to testify about their massive and diverse entitlements — the corporate executives who feed at the deep welfare troughs in Washington. This is the third taboo.

These powerbrokers, with their fake allegiance to free enterprise, are on the dole, feeding off, for example, government subsidies, giveaways of taxpayer funded research, development and inventions, cheap loan guarantees, bailouts (remember the S&Ls), tax breaks, debt-forgiveness, below cost timber and other sales, interest subsidies, protection from competition, inflated government contracts and the free use of our public airwaves (belonging to you) by broadcasters.

Over one hundred distinct corporate welfare entitlement programs are humming along every day in Washington totaling scores of billions of dollars a year. Funny, though, these entitlements were not on the agenda or within the mandate of this Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform.

Far more of your tax dollars are spent, and corporate tax dollars forgiven, on corporate entitlements, just at the federal level, than the federal poverty welfare budget.

Try and get a response from the Senators on the Commission regarding the omission of corporate entitlements from their menu.

Nine months ago I wrote the Commission’s chairman, Senator Bob Kerrey, to “spend more time considering the aforementioned spending cuts for corporations, and not focus entirely on cuts in spending for lower income Americans. To do this, your commission should broaden the politically-acceptable language and discourse of “welfare” to include the vast variety of corporate entitlements. Anything less would be shamefully ideological and ‘politically correct.’ “

Senator Kerrey did not respond.

Senators Alan Simpson and John Danforth did not take kindly to the low-income and medicare entitlement advocates. Senator Simpson denounced the witnesses’ “cut-someone-else-but-not-me” attitude and called their position one of ignorance rather than that of greed or ideology.

Danforth, one of the wealthiest of the Senators, retorted “‘Poor for us.’ ‘Please feel sorry for us.’ ‘Please don’t sacrifice us.’ We’ve heard a lot of that today.” Incidentally, Danforth has supported all the Congressional Pay Grabs of the past decade.

Simpson did have a point, though, about the witnesses not having an ideology. None of them attempted to draw attention to the exclusion of corporate entitlements from the agenda even though they come from the same. cistern of taxpayer monies.

It is, of course, true that no entitlement program, however noble, is free from the need for improvements. There is waste, fraud and abuse in many of them; but not just on the side of the poor or lower-income recipients. For example, food stamp fraud raids by federal investigators this summer have arrested many merchants accused of exchanging the coupons for cash, drugs, guns and other products in several cities nationwide.

But such are the controlling processes of corporations that while campaign contributions serve to quiet the Senators on matters of corporate welfare, the lifelong passive absorption of corporatist ideology silences otherwise alert and articulate advocates for the masses as well. Or so the transcript of this six hour hearing would indicate.