Congress's Next Giveaway
After a month of the American people voicing unrelenting outrage to their elected representatives about the level of spending, debt and government intervention in their lives, a beleaguered and unpopular congressional majority returns to its haven of Washington this week. Incredibly, the first item on the Senate agenda is a bill to create a new and unnecessary government tourism advertising agency. Call it Fannie Travel.
The $400 million Travel Promotion Fund, set to be created if the Senate passes the Travel Promotion Act (TPA) this week, is perhaps the perfect illustration of the disconnect between the American people and their representatives in Washington.
The bill would impose a $10 fee on foreign visitors to the United States and use the money to fund an international advertising campaign encouraging the world to travel here (Imagine: "Come to America, so we can tax you at the airport!"). The advertising fund would be controlled by leaders of America's tourism industry -- giant corporations such as Disney, Loews and Marriott. Keep in mind, those companies are not in distress -- they're thriving. Disney, for instance, posted profits of $4.4 billion last year, and bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion just last week.
The American travel industry already spends billions every year on advertising with tens of millions focused on international marketing. The purpose of the Travel Promotion Act is to subsidize that advertising.
Proponents of the bill say that it's not a tax increase because only foreigners will pay it. But the European Union and other governments have already announced that any TPA fee will trigger reciprocal fees for American travelers to their countries. Meanwhile, every $10 Washington takes from foreign tourists is $10 those tourists won't spend in local restaurants, shops and hotels. This act is designed to help big businesses at the expense of small ones.
Over the past year, Americans have lost millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in a recession that was largely caused by the federal government meddling in the economy. The question now is whether Washington has learned its lesson. Recent evidence is not encouraging. As far as I'm concerned, "Cash for Clunkers" is not the name of a single idiotic program. It is the name for an entire year's worth of failed and incompetent economic policies: two failed stimulus bills; an unconstitutional bailout of Wall Street; proposed federal takeovers of the health-care and energy sectors; and actual federal takeovers of banks, insurance companies and carmakers.
That is the true cause of the anger in this country. We are now close to $12 trillion in debt. The deficit for 2009, and probably next year as well, will top $1 trillion. Long-term, Medicare and Social Security have a combined projected deficit of more than $100 trillion! How deeply into debt do we have to get before Congress kicks its addiction to hundred-million-dollar impulse shopping? Any senator who votes to create a $400 million program to subsidize billion-dollar, multinational corporations either doesn't understand the seriousness of America's economic problems or just doesn't care.
Tourism is vital to our economy, especially to our economic recovery. In my home state of South Carolina, tourism is the No. 1 industry. But that's exactly why we need to keep the government out of it. Bungling policies already hinder our international tourism industry. Processing of visas is inexcusably slow, which for large group visits such as business conferences often means outright cancellation. We are also renowned for our unfriendly and irrational customs systems. Our problem isn't a lack of advertising, it's a lack of efficiency and quality service. Only politicians would choose to raise prices in such an environment.
Common sense and economic reality -- to say nothing of the Constitution -- should preclude anything like the Travel Promotion Fund from even being considered. Indeed, it wouldn't be considered in any other time or place, except in Washington, D.C., under its current leadership.
Americans just spent a month hollering at the top of their lungs, trying to get Washington to listen. And this -- a $400 million corporate welfare boondoggle -- is Washington's answer?
Did congressional Democrats learn nothing on their summer vacation?
The writer, a Republican from South Carolina, is chairman of the Senate Steering Committee.