Paid to do nothing

By ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, former U. S. senator

AUG. 3, 2012 -- In 2011 after a gunman shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords… Joe Klein writes (Time, 8/6/12) that President Obama said "We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence…" And then…nothing. The "nothing" can be easily explained. Money! The National Rifle Association will spend a fortune to defeat you over gun control. After the Aurora, Colorado massacre, the free press called on candidates Obama and Romney to address gun control. President Obama and Governor Romney both let staffers address the issue, then -- nothing. Money!


Grover Norquist has a majority of the Republicans in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate pledged against tax increases. President George W. H. Bush took this pledge but broke it in 1990. Grover Norquist brags publicly how he beat President Bush for reelection in 1992 -- money!

When I was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1966, six Republicans and six Democrats met every Wednesday night. We had drinks together and became fast friends. Now we are raising money against each other. Instead of Senators getting together every Wednesday night, lobbyists have drinks together every night. They know the lobbyist who can influence a particular Senator's vote and the vote is fixed on important issues long before the roll is called. Lyndon Johnson couldn't lead the Senate today. The people have lost control of their government. The lobbyists control -- money!

"The homeless and Warren Buffet have the same amount of free speech but Buffett can spend more. James Madison never thought his first amendment right of free speech would be measured, limited or controlled by money. The Supreme Court made a mistake in Buckley and it has to be corrected."

-- Hollings

I've been suggesting a Value Added Tax for thirty years. In 1989 Senator Bentsen gave me a hearing on a VAT before the Senate Finance Committee. Sijbren Cnossen, who helped write the VAT for the United Kingdom and Japan, testified. As the Senators were filing out, John Chaffey told me that if the Committee had an Executive Session, the VAT would be reported out unanimously.

In January 2003, I introduced a 2% VAT to pay for the war in Iraq but the White House killed it. Today every Republican and Democrat Senator says he or she is for tax cuts, tax reform, creating jobs, cutting the size of government, is intent on paying down the debt, wants to limit offshoring and wants to jumpstart the economy. We can limit the lobbyists, take back control of government, and do all these things by cancelling the 35% Corporate Tax and replace it with a 7% VAT. This releases $1 trillion in offshore profits for Corporate America to invest and create jobs. Last year the Corporate Tax produced $181.1 billion in revenues. A 7% Vat would have produced $872 billion. This tax cut produces billions to pay down the debt, creates millions of jobs and jumpstarts the economy. I have proposed this tax cut to Vice President Biden and to each Republican and Democrat in the U.S. Senate -- but nothing. The President and Congress want to keep the contributions flowing from Wall Street, the big banks and Corporate America who want to keep the China profits flowing - money.

We can excise the cancer of money by limiting spending in campaigns as Congress did in 1973. Senator Thurmond and I were limited to so much per registered voter. But the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo equated money with speech and set aside the '73 law. We limited spending, not speech. The homeless and Warren Buffet have the same amount of free speech but Buffett can spend more. James Madison never thought his first amendment right of free speech would be measured, limited or controlled by money. The Supreme Court made a mistake in Buckley and it has to be corrected.

It can be corrected in two steps. First, get by the Supreme Court with this Constitutional Amendment: "Congress is empowered to regulate or control spending in federal elections." At the suggestion of the Governor's Conference, I proposed an amendment that included state elections. This amendment received a bipartisan majority vote but not the 2/3 required for a Joint Resolution. But Congress doesn't want to be empowered. All in Congress are in the catbird seat for fundraising. Located in Washington amidst the lobbyists, Congress raises money morning, noon and night. The Senators have a paid staff, offices back home and six years for a running start for reelection. The first step doesn't commit to any particular solution. After the first step we can adopt McCain Feingold, public financing, so much per registered voter, against corporate giving or whatever. But Congress refuses to take either the first or second step - money. Paid to do nothing.

Senator Hollings of South Carolina served 38 years in the United States Senate, and for many years was Chairman of the Commerce, Space, Science & Transportation Committee. He is the author of Making Government Work (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

© 2012, Ernest F. Hollings. All rights reserved. Contact us for republication permission.

About Fritz Hollings

Ernest F. Hollings served the public for 56 years -- 38 years in the United States Senate and as South Carolina's governor, lieutenant governor and a member of the S.C. House of Representatives.

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