National Debate and Campaign

Suddenly basic economic and trade issues are front and center in national politics.

Discussions of job security, stagnant wages, corporate ethics and flights of factories to Mexico are pushing out the endless renditions of balanced budgets, deficits and arcane tax proposals as the hot button issues. Belatedly, politicians and pundits are discovering that jobs and bread and butter issues count big with America’s working families.

Pat Buchanan’s tough talk on economic issues is the impetus for the new awareness, but other candidates are quickly learning how to talk the new talk. Even Bob Dole, no stranger to the corporate-banking lobbyists on Capitol Hill, recognizes the new language of 1996 politics, lamenting that he did not “realize that jobs and trade and what makes America work would become a big issue…”

Polling data collected in the wake of the early caucuses and primaries establish that the economic issues are, indeed, touching a raw nerve among middle class families that are being squeezed in an economy that for them is barely moving.

In coming weeks, the Republicans will sift out their increasingly muddled nomination process. But, the more important question is whether the campaign has turned a policy spotlight on corporate America that cannot be easily extinguished in either the Republican or Democratic parties–or in the Congress.

This is one of the cruelest Congress in American history. Anything that is working for ordinary people — such as job safety, health protection, student loans, legal services for the poor — is under attack. While anything that is corporate — such as tobacco and insurance lobbies — receive congenial treatment from the Republican majority and some conservative Democrats.

Politicians, with their unerring instinct for self-preservation, watch polls, election results and examine political tea leafs with the utmost care.

Will some Republican members, who marched lockstep with the corporate interests in the 104th Congress, suddenly realize that their constituents are catching on that the GOP revolution of 1994 was no more than “big business and big banking as usual”? And, more to the point, will that bring some changes in the monolithic, no questions asked votes that pushed so much anti-consumer, Anti environment and anti-community legislation in the current Congress?

For example, it has always been puzzling that Republican members of Congress have consistently opposed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and the efforts to encourage banks to invest private monies (not tax money) in their communities. This has been true even for members who represent districts with high levels of poverty, substandard housing and are in critical need of development funds.

That is what happened last summer in the House Banking and Financial Services Committee where all 27 Republicans voted for the banks and against their communities in support of legislation that would have virtually wiped out CRA.

Perhaps these members feel that no one really cares about bread and butter economic issues at the grass roots of America. Or maybe they feel no one will ever be the wiser that it was banks first, communities last, when the bank regulatory relief legislation was before the Committee.

But, the economic concerns coming out of this year’s primaries and caucuses may require some rethinking. There may be a new awareness–a few pointed questions–when members who voted the straight pro-bank, pro-corporate line in the 104th Congress come home to explain their records.

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