THE TRUE PARTISAN POLITICS: High speed internet, prescription drugs, and insurance:
Under the 1996 telecommunications act, the "Baby Bells(5)" are not allowed to offer high speed internet access (without allowing other companies to use their infrastructure) on the grounds that they own practically all of the phone cable in the United States. This issue has little or no relation to party politics. Neither democrats nor republicans have taken any stance that is directly for or against this act. However, the Baby Bells have been lobbying extensively to get the act amended to allow them to offer such access without allowing their competitors to use their infrastructure.
Senators Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and John Dingell (D-MI) proposed a deal in which the Bells can offer an exclusive lease to use their cable. The two companies that stand to loose the most are AT&T and AOL/Time Warner: currently the two largest suppliers of broadband internet in the United States. Not surprisingly, Senator Tauzin had Verizon and SBC Communications as his number one and four contributors during his 2000 election campaign. And this doesn't even include contributions from SBC and Bell South used to pay for Tauzin’s half-million dollar Mardi Gras party during the Republican Convention in Philadelphia(6). Senator Dingell had these companies - Verizon and SBC - as his number three and four contributors, with Bell South at number seven. Not surprisingly, the opponents of this bill have received large amounts of money from AT&T and AOL/Time Warner. John Conyers Jr., (D-MI) received a total of $21,500 from these corporations for his 2000 election, making them his second and fourth largest contributors, respectively(7).
Despite many politicians’ promises for prescription drug coverage, and the belief of many American's that such coverage is necessary, this reform is unlikely to happen as soon as promised. There nothing close to a consensus on how to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for the American people. Obviously, some debate on a subject is necessary to determine the best possible solution. However, this debate is not about who has the best ideas, but rather, whose donors’ have the most clout. In its two forms, the bill provides for a type of voucher system that senior citizens can use to purchase private health insurance at a lower cost(8). This bill benefits the pharmaceutical industry, as a voucher for health insurance will not actually lower the price - and thereby won't decrease the profits made by manufacturers - of prescription medication. The supporters of this bill are Bill First (R-TN) and John Breaux (D-LA), who received $120,000 in 2000 and nearly $70,000 in 1998 from the pharmaceutical industry, respectively. Not surprisingly, neither of them received much, if any, money from insurance companies. Another option, for example, could have been for the government to control the outrageous costs of medication. This approach would benefit insurance companies and lower the profits of the pharmaceutical companies.
These are just a few examples of congressional representatives displaying their loyalty to the wills of their donors, rather than to their constituents or their own personal conscious. We have presented here a limited number of instances; there are many more. Reverting to the Economic Stimulus Plan, we see that even the few members of congress who are opposed to the heavy influence that corporate America exerts upon the legislative process fall prey to the same influences. More specifically, consider Senator Feingold. Although his statements against the president's Economic Stimulus Plan should be commended, it must be noted that he didn't receive donations from any of the corporations that stood to gain from this particular proposal.
(5) "“Baby Bells” being defined as Qwest, SBC Communications, BellSouth and Verizon.
(7) Committee Report 2 of 2 - House Rpt. 107-83 Part 2 “Unfortunately, the Tauzin bill is so deeply flawed that we cannot…fix this bill.” Financial data is still from Center for Responsible Politics.
(8) S.357 S.358; referred to Senate Finance committee Feb 15 2001, destined to begin Jan 1 2004