THE CORPORATE tax bill that Congress has sent to the White House rewards just about every special interest that retains a lobbyist in Washington. Makers of sonar fish finders stand to gain, as do importers of Chinese ceiling fans, dog-track operators who cater to foreign gamblers, and Native Alaskan whaling captains. But one lobby did not do so well, and its identity is revealing. The Motion Picture Association of America, Hollywood's trade group, had been hoping for $350 million a year in subsidies, which were written into the Senate version of the bill as partial compensation for the loss of a bigger export subsidy that the bill repeals. But the Senate's largesse was cut back to around $100 million in the final bill that emerged from the House-Senate conference, leaving the movie industry as the biggest net loser from the legislation.
Why did the movie studios, which usually lobby with the best of them, lose out? Perhaps because three months ago they had the temerity to choose Dan Glickman, a Democrat, to head their trade association. The congressional Republican leadership, which had the final say on the tax bill, made no secret of its fury that a plum lobbying job had not gone to a Republican: Grover Norquist, a close ally of House Republicans, called Mr. Glickman's appointment "a studied insult," adding that the movie industry's "ability to work with the House and Senate is greatly reduced." Commenting on the movie moguls' comeuppance last week, Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.) told Brody Mullins of Roll Call that "it's a good idea to have someone who can communicate with those who are in power," and that "[i]t's a consideration that any organization hiring a lobbyist should take into account."
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This suggests that Congress is corrupt not only in the manner in which it awards prizes to favorite lobbyists, but also in the manner in which it denies such prizes. By punishing the movie industry for giving its plushest Washington job to the opposite party, the Republicans are saying that they want such jobs reserved for their own side, partly so that they can vacuum up the campaign donations that trade associations make and partly so that members of their own party can spin through the revolving door into millionaire nirvana. A few years ago, congressional Republicans claimed to stand for free-market principles -- for the idea that government should get out of the way and allow the economy to reward the innovators and entrepreneurs who fuel progress. But power has corrupted the party. Now that they are the incumbents, they skew the economic playing field so as to reward their friends and fill their campaign treasuries.
The bill that Congress has produced is monstrous in just about every way. Designed to close a $5 billion-a-year export subsidy that violated international trade law, it ended by spraying out $140 billion in business breaks over 10 years. It absurdly rewards tobacco farmers, and absentee tobacco landlords, without imposing even the minimal regulation on tobacco that the nation's biggest cigarette maker had agreed to. In Friday's debate, President Bush said he would discipline Congress in order to reduce the budget deficit. If Mr. Bush cannot bring himself to veto this terrible bill, it will be hard to take him seriously.