Reinventing the wheel

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


OCT. 14, 2015 -- When I came to the Senate in 1966, Senators from both parties worked together, partied together, traveled together. No Senator thought of raising money against another Senator. In 1971 and 1973 by a bipartisan vote, Congress limited spending in federal elections. President Nixon signed the '73 law.

The Supreme Court in Buckley vs. Valeo reversed the spending limit by equating "free spending" with "free speech". Hiring a campaign manager is spending not speech. Taking a poll is spending not speech. Walk into a TV station and tell the manager you want your "free speech" and soon you'll find yourself out on the sidewalk. Congress has tried to correct the mistake in Buckley with McCain Feingold, public financing, etc. Only a Constitutional Amendment will empower Congress to limit or control spending in campaigns.

Once the Constitution is amended, a later Congress can determine the method of limiting. Senator Thurmond and I were limited to so much per registered voter - $687,000. Senators are located amongst 10,000 lobbyists in Washington. They fundraise morning, noon and night. After Buckley, Senators started raising money against each other. Partisanship set in. My seventh time to be elected to the United States Senate in 1998, I raised and spent $8.5 million. Today, a contested race in South Carolina would cost $12-$15 million.

In 2002, 2003, and 2004, the Republicans in charge of the Senate wanted to amend the Constitution to prevent flag burning. They asked that I withhold my amendment empowering Congress to limit spending. I refused and no Joint Resolution was voted on my last three years in the Senate. The Senators don't want to lose their six year advantage to fundraise.

The volume of money required in campaigns has permitted lobbyists to wrest control of the government from Congress. Everybody favors gun control, but you can't get a vote to control guns because of NRA contributions. Lobbyists even tell the Speaker or Leader when to call the Roll. Money has become more important than the issue.

Congress "invented the wheel" when they limited spending in '71 and '73. Once limited, the horrendous volume of money in politics is removed; Senators stop raising money against each other; gridlock is broken. Citizens United can be corrected. Corporate giving can be controlled. Lobbyists lose control of the Congress.

Globalization is nothing more than a trade war with production looking for a country cheaper to produce. In globalization, competition is not only internal but worldwide. The United States wants Corporate America to compete globally and at the same time we want to retain our labor, safety, health and environmental rules. We must make it profitable for Corporate America to produce in America for the U.S. to retain a strong economy. We can at least equalize business tactics. 164 countries have "invented the wheel" with a Value Added Tax that's rebated on exports. The Corporate Income Tax is not rebated.

Now, we have 535 Members of Congress falling over each other closing loopholes; launching new taxes; trying to "reinvent the wheel". Replacing the 35 percent Corporate Tax with a 5 percent VAT is a tax cut that releases $2 trillion in offshore profits for Corporate America to repatriate tax free and create millions of jobs. In 2014, the 35 percent Corporate Tax produced revenues of $327 billion. A 5 percent VAT for 2014 would have produced $898 billion enabling Congress to balance the budget and pay for infrastructure. The corporate lawyers have fashioned so many loopholes in the Corporate Tax that the multinationals pay little or no taxes. The 35 percent burden is on the Main Street merchant. The VAT has no loopholes and is self-enforcing; permitting Congress to reduce the size of government (IRS).

Everybody says they are for tax cuts, closing loopholes, reducing the size of government, but they favor "reinventing the wheel."

Senator Fritz 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).

© 2015, 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. Today, Hollings continues to be influential in public affairs and offers this website as a compendium of current and past positions on public issues. Learn more about Fritz Hollings.

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