Trying to allay concerns that he was not bowing to Republican demands fast enough to avoid being labeled a traitor, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), appearing on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, professed confidence that both an economic stimulus bill and a “terror insurance” bill, measures meant to help prop up the economy, would be passed soon. He also canceled a planned fundraising trip next week so he could be in Washington to shepherd these bills through the Senate.

Paul Wong
One for the road<br><br>Peter Cunniffe

But he should take that trip, or a vacation, or just go home. Because staying looks like it will just mean more handouts to people who don”t need it at the expense of those who can”t afford it.

“Terror insurance” sounds like a good idea, right? But the bill isn”t what you might think. It provides $100 billion in loans to the insurance industry should they need to cover the cost of future terrorist attacks, but the loans wouldn”t have to be paid back if the administration chose to let them off the hook. And should the insurance industry”s lobbyists prove as effective as in the past, guess who gets to pay those bills. The same taxpayers who so gallantly “insured” the airlines to the tune of $15 billion last month.

One would assume that those in the insurance industry are aware of and accepting of the possibility they will have to make large payouts from time to time. That”s why there are reinsurers after all.

But this bill does more than add to the ballooning corporate welfare system. While making sure insurers get all the money they want, it puts serious obstacles in the way of individuals seeking terrorism-related damages in court. Insurers and other businesses would have their liability severely restricted, all actions would have to be filed in federal court and punitive damages would be eliminated. Attorney fees in such cases would also be limited. These burdens could make it nearly impossible for a plaintiff to ever resolve such an action. Plaintiffs are still in court seeking damages from the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing under the current rules. New restrictions could kill the possibility of legal redress for future victims of terrorism.

This is an old trick to prevent compensation to victims. Republicans were doing the same thing to the Patient”s Bill of Rights a few months ago when they tried to use the same tactics of limiting punitive damages, restricting liability and forcing all cases into the already clogged federal courts to effectively block enforcement of many of the bill”s protections.

They also tried to restrict attorney fees in that situation because Republicans love free markets, except when in comes to lawyers.

And corporate welfare of course.

A prime example of that is the economic stimulus bill. It looks to be as galling an example of corporate pork as the terror insurance bill. To his credit, Daschle has been working hard to include more help for workers in the bill in the form of unemployment insurance and health benefits, but because of the Republican administration and House of Representatives, any economic stimulus bill will almost certainly be just a sop to big corporations and the wealthy with a few pittances for workers that Democrats can say constitute a victory.

The House has already passed its bill and it”s an almost freakishly elitist assemblage of tax breaks for people with high incomes and the nation”s biggest corporations. Most notable is a retroactive repeal of the corporate alternative minimum tax (which ensures companies can”t use creative accounting and tax write-offs to avoid paying any taxes), meaning that the large companies subject to the tax don”t have to pay in the future and get back what they paid in the past.

The budget deficit Republicans put us into with their earlier tax cuts for the wealthy (and isn”t the economic growth those stimulated just great?) wasn”t enough. They”ve decided to dig the hole deeper because why ask people to pay now when they can just leave the bill for future generations with interest? Of course it”s possible we”ll have to pay now too, especially if the economy stabilizes anytime soon, as administration economic forecasters predict, because the budget deficits (projected to last for years even with an economic recovery) will lead to higher interest rates, which we all get to pay for.

The only winners appear to the corporations getting back billions of dollars even as the workers they shed are finding it more and more difficult to get new jobs.

As interested as he is in not being accused, as he assuredly will be anyway, of not doing enough to help the country in a time of war if he doesn”t pass these bills, Sen. Daschle shouldn”t hold out for a few virtually meaningless concessions to workers, but should just go home and let these almost farcical corporate giveaways die. Keeping down deficits and interest rates, leaving terror victims with legal remedies and not having gobs of money to businesses and the bill to taxpayers would be far more helpful to the country than any of the small concessions he can win.

Peter Cunniffe can be reached via e-mail at pcunniff@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *