January 9, 2002
WASHINGTON–Confirming a prediction made in “Hot Topics” more than two years ago, the Bush administration is preparing new legislation that will reward Bush’s biggest campaign donors with billions of dollars in corporate-welfare handouts and anti-labor, anti-consumer legislation, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
Writing in the January 8 edition, Journal reporters Jim VanderHei and Tom Hamburger wrote, “Corporate lobbyists are looking to Mr. Bush to press Congress for tax breaks on depreciation expenses and new protections from lawsuits, and to resist any health-care changes that could raise costs for employers. Business interests also expect Mr. Bush to move administratively to relax workplace and environmental rules.”
The Journal’s disclosures closely parallel a forecast of Bush’s probable behavior as president that appeared in “Hot Topics” September 3, 1999, when Bush was just beginning to campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. The article said that if Bush became president he would use his office to lower corporate taxes and ease federal regulations on workplace safety, health insurance, product-safety lawsuits and environmental protection.
According to the Wall Street Journal article, that prediction is coming true. The reporters said that top Bush advisor Karl Rove has been meeting with corporate lobbyists to discuss their wish-lists for 2002 legislation. But even before the current round of meetings, the Bush administration already had declared open season on fundamental employee and consumer rights, the article said.
“Regardless of what happens in the year ahead, Democrats say the president has provided them with plenty of ammunition during his first year in office,” VanderHei and Hamburger wrote. “He overturned worker-safety rules, rejected an international global-warming treaty and rolled back numerous pro-labor laws backed by former President Clinton, among other things.”
The reporters aid the Bush administration’s pro-corporate agenda for 2002 will include a variety of tax breaks for corporations, including language allowing airlines and chemical manufacturers to retroactively write down more of their losses dating back to 2000. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are seeking legislation banning price controls on drugs and expanding the use of medical savings accounts, which weaken the health-insurance system. Electrical utilities will be seeking relief from environmental controls on their smokestack emissions, as well as tax breaks an relief from rate regulation. United Parcel Service and several other large corporations are reported to be lobbying the administration for a bill that would downgrade tough workplace-safety regulations to the less stringent status of “guidelines.”
But the Bush initiative with the most serious implications for railroad workers will be the administration’s campaign for so-called “tort reform,” which would place a cap on the size of a damage award brought by workers against their employers when they are injured on the job.
Because railroad employees are not covered by Workmen’s Compensation laws, the only way they can recover damages from a negligent employer is to bring a lawsuit. Thus, any arbitrary cap on tort settlements would severely cripple the discretion of the court system to compensate railroad employees or their families for loss of life, limb, companionship or earning ability. “Tort reform” also would deprive workers, consumers and the courts of a tool essential to correcting corporate misbehavior–the power to reduce profits through a verdict of punitive damages.