Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Billionaires-- An Existential Threat To Democracy


First of all, derailing Obamacare is NOT the only thing Republican Teabaggers care about. Ted Cruz, in fact, has an entire vision for America's future that Maureen Dowd set out to explain in Sunday's NY Times. It may be a little dystopian but the low taxes crowd will love it nonetheless. (And there are zombies.) Oh-- and speaking of the low taxes crowd… good reporting from Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mike McIntire in the Times over the weekend on how the Kochs and a small handful of like-minded anti-democracy billionaires planned out the federal budget crisis for some time.

A couple days ago economist Umair Haque made a great point in Twitterville about billionaires. He agrees with many contemporary thinkers: as a protection for society at large, billionaires should not exist:

Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.

Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.

It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans-- including their cautious leaders-- into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.

“We felt very strongly at the start of this year that the House needed to use the power of the purse,” said one coalition member, Michael A. Needham, who runs Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. “At least at Heritage Action, we felt very strongly from the start that this was a fight that we were going to pick.”

A defunding “tool kit” created in early September included talking points for the question, “What happens when you shut down the government and you are blamed for it?” The suggested answer was the one House Republicans give today: “We are simply calling to fund the entire government except for the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare.”

The current budget brinkmanship is just the latest development in a well-financed, broad-based assault on the health law, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative initiative. Groups like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are all immersed in the fight, as is Club for Growth, a business-backed nonprofit organization. Some, like Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty, both aimed at young adults, are upstarts. Heritage Action is new, too, founded in 2010 to advance the policy prescriptions of its sister group, the Heritage Foundation.

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.

The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.

One sample Twitter offering-- “Obamacare is a train wreck”-- is a common refrain for Speaker John A. Boehner.

As the defunding movement picked up steam among outside advocates, Republicans who sounded tepid became targets. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee dedicated to “electing true conservatives,” ran radio advertisements against three Republican incumbents.

Heritage Action ran critical Internet advertisements in the districts of 100 Republican lawmakers who had failed to sign a letter by a North Carolina freshman, Representative Mark Meadows, urging Mr. Boehner to take up the defunding cause.

“They’ve been hugely influential,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “When else in our history has a freshman member of Congress from North Carolina been able to round up a gang of 80 that’s essentially ground the government to a halt?”

On Capitol Hill, the advocates found willing partners in Tea Party conservatives, who have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if they do not get their way on spending issues. This time they said they were so alarmed by the health law that they were willing to risk a shutdown over it. (“This is exactly what the public wants,” Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, said on the eve of the shutdown.)

Despite Mrs. Bachmann’s comments, not all of the groups have been on board with the defunding campaign. Some, like the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity, which spent $5.5 million on health care television advertisements over the past three months, are more focused on sowing public doubts about the law. But all have a common goal, which is to cripple a measure that Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and leader of the defunding effort, has likened to a horror movie.

“We view this as a long-term effort,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. He said his group expected to spend “tens of millions” of dollars on a “multifront effort” that includes working to prevent states from expanding Medicaid under the law. The group’s goal is not to defund the law.

“We want to see this law repealed,” Mr. Phillips said.

…A review of tax records, campaign finance reports and corporate filings shows that hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised and spent since 2012 by organizations, many of them loosely connected, leading opposition to the measure.

One of the biggest sources of conservative money is Freedom Partners, a tax-exempt “business league” that claims more than 200 members, each of whom pays at least $100,000 in dues. The group’s board is headed by a longtime executive of Koch Industries, the conglomerate run by the Koch brothers, who were among the original financiers of the Tea Party movement. The Kochs declined to comment.

While Freedom Partners has financed organizations that are pushing to defund the law, like Heritage Action and Tea Party Patriots, Freedom Partners has not advocated that. A spokesman for the group, James Davis, said it was more focused on “educating Americans around the country on the negative impacts of Obamacare.”

The largest recipient of Freedom Partners cash-- about $115 million-- was the Center to Protect Patient Rights, according to the groups’ latest tax filings. Run by a political consultant with ties to the Kochs and listing an Arizona post office box for its address, the center appears to be little more than a clearinghouse for donations to still more groups, including American Commitment and the 60 Plus Association, both ardent foes of the health care law.
I want to be clear that I'm not advocating violence against billionaires or anything like a guillotine. No matter how much harm they've done, all I'm proposing is a simple progressive taxation. Like anything over $10 million or $50 million or $100 million-- I'll leave that to you-- gets taxed at a rate of 99%. Ergo: a billionaire elimination tax… with no bloodshed. Or call it a blueprint for defunding billionairecare.

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