Forget Michigan. Worry about Steny Hoyer.
While most political eyes are fixed on Romney's primary results, the middle class faces a threat to its financial security right in the heart of the Capitol. The Democratic Party does, too.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who is the living embodiment of Washington's corporatized politics, is once again pushing a "Grand Bargain" that would cut Social Security and Medicare -- and result in more electoral losses like the ones he helped bring upon his party in 2010.
Hoyer is the Lobbyists' Legislator, the Revolving-Door Representative, the Minority Whip who really drives floor votes for the Corporate Party rather than the electorate. Hoyer's pseudo-centrist deficit pitch will please the rich individuals and corporations that have given him one of the biggest campaign war chests in Congress.
It will also help Republicans run a repeat of their 2010 play, when they took the House by running to the Democrats' left on Medicare and Social Security.
Corporate Democrats like Hoyer makes the GOP's work easy. He proposed raising the retirement age to 70 just a few months before the 2010 election. The GOP responded to that kind of talk, as well as the President's "Grand Bargain" overtures and right-leaning deficit panel rhetoric, by writing a "Seniors' Bill of Rights" that painted Democrats as Social Security and Medicare cutters.
Republicans should have been politically vulnerable on Social Security. They'd recently failed to pass a highly unpopular privatization plan, and prospective Speaker John Boehner refused to take benefit cuts off the table. Enter Steny Hoyer, who came to the Republicans' rescue by saying, "We should consider a higher retirement age or one pegged to lifespan" in July of 2010. That led to headlines like "Republicans and Democrats Lining Up Behind Major Cuts to Social Security and Medicare" -- and that was on the liberal-leaning Talking Points Memo website. A headline in the right-leaning Washington Times reading "Both parties mull raising retirement age" was featured below a large color photograph of Hoyer.
Hoyer's comments undercut House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Republicans played Hoyer and other Blue Dog Democrats for suckers that year (unless they were working from a shared script), luring them into making these comments with promises of a grand deal -- then nailing them at the polls by posing as these programs' defenders.
Now he's at it again. By pushing for yet another would-be "Grand Bargain" in an election year, Hoyer's backing a course of action that will all but guarantee more electoral defeats for Democrats in 2012.
Steny Hoyer, (MD, D-Corporate)
But then, what do you expect from a guy who raises two-thirds of his money from PACs and the other third from large individual donors, and whose top corporate backers this season include Citigroup and the fiercely anti-union Comcast? At least on paper, Hoyer represents a Maryland district. But too often he represents the cluster of lobbyists and PACs that drive Washington's politics instead. It's called the Corporate Party, and Steny's a senior member.
The words and deeds of Corporate Democrats like Steny Hoyer may have more impact on November's election results than anything that happened in Michigan today. If you're worried about good policy for our middle class, worry about Steny Hoyer. And if you're a partisan Democrat, worry about Steny Hoyer.
It could be a happy coincidence, but Hoyer's positions play very well with the lobbyists and corporations who contribute to his campaign war chest -- which was more than ten times bigger than that of the average member of the House in 2010. Thanks to OpenSecrets.org, we have the breakdown:
Here's how Hoyer's fundraising compared to that of his peers in the House:
You don't get that much lettuce unless you're letting the customer toss your salad, if you catch my drift.
Here's where the money came from:
As you can see, small individual contributions make up only 1 percent of Hoyer's haul. The People's Candidate, he ain't. Most of his haul (65 percent) comes from PACs, and the rest of it (34 percent) comes from large individual contributors -- that is to say, rich people.
Which contributors favored Hoyer with the most cash this time around?
Citigroup? Really? Ouch.
Hoyer's fundraisers have been taking place at venues like Johnny's Half Shell, Bistro Bis, and -- with embarrassing regularity -- Democratic National Headquarters. Who hosts them? That's public information.
On February 3, for example, a couple of top lawyers from Covington & Burling hosted one for him at the Hotel George. Covington & Burling is the top Wall Street firm known for, mong other things, writing the legal rationale behind the shell corporation known as "MERS." MERSCorp's shadowy actions played a central role in Wall Street's widespread -- and criminal -- foreclosure fraud. Attorney General Holder and Deputy AG received justified heat for their tenure at Covington & Burling, which is now raising money for Hoyer. To hobnob with Steny at this event, people paid $5,000 to host it, $2,500 to sponsor it, and $1,500 to attend.
Hoyer's other hosts included Ed Yingling, the former head of the American Bankers Association who was a fierce opponent of the regulation that might have saved the economy, and who kept on preaching his anti-government rhetoric while his industry took billions in taxpayer money .
Ed is now -- want to take a guess? -- a partner with Covington & Burling. So's another co-host, Muftiah McCartin, a revolving-door veteran who also worked with Hoyer and had a 34-year career as a Hill staffer. Ms. McCartin now works as Special Counsel at Covington.
Then there's Scott DeFife, who's the Executive Vice President for Policy & Government Affairs at the National Restaurant Association. (Surely you remember them -- Herman Cain's old organization?)
One fundraiser was co-hosted by Gina Mahony, another door-spinner who worked for Hoyer on the Hill. She now has a high-paying job "lobbying for banks and card companies against the reduced 'swipe fee' rules favored by retailers and merchants." That's not some muckracker's description of her work. That wording is from her firm's website. What the rest of us might call an exposé, they call "bragging."
Another was hosted by Dayle Cristinzio, another ex-Hill staffer and Hoyer employee who now works at law firm Foley Hoag as a non-lawyer staffer in its "Government Strategies" (that is, lobbying) division. Foley Hoag's slogan is "Driving Business Advantage."
The list goes on -- but you get the idea.
Steny Hoyer has been on an anti-retirement security crusade for years. In April of 2009, at the height of our Wall Street-caused financial crisis, he wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal -- the banking industry's house organ -- on the subject of government deficits. Was Hoyer the Democrats' bearding the lions in their den, fighting the good fight for the American majority in the belly of the beast?
Not exactly. While he did make some tepid statements about the need for short-term deficit spending at the height of the crisis -- something even the Goldman Sachs crowd accepted -- the capstone of Hoyer's editorial was his clarion call for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
He brought up the subject of cuts again in May 2009. (He called it "reform." The Corporate Party loves to call cuts "reforms.") He was all over the media on the topic in 2010, as mentioned earlier. He fought to keep an increase in the retirement age "on the table" in February of 2011.
It's a crusade with him. And he gets the issue completely wrong.
It's important to decode and debunk his rhetoric, because its the same industry-driven spin we've been hearing for years -- spin which gets repeatedly debunked and yet is too well-financed to die.
"The the single most important thing we can do to get our budget under control," wrote Hoyer, "is to deal with the costs of our entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid." This sentence repeats one of the most disingenuous and destructive falsehoods now circulating among policymakers and media types. The truth is that Social Security is forbidden by law from contributing to budget deficits.
Cutting Social Security will never help "get our budget under control" -- but there are some powerful people who want to see it cut for other, more selfish reasons. Hoyer went on to say this about the one of the most successful and popular programs in our nation's history: "We know the policy options necessary to make Social Security fiscally sound: restraining the growth of benefits, bringing more revenues into the system, and raising the retirement age, among others."
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Alan Greenspan, who's hardly a hero of the 99 percent, chaired the commission that stabilized Social Security in the 1980s. They made the necessary adjustments back then -- including raising the retirement age -- so that the "age wave" of baby boomers and other demographic issues were fully addressed.
Here's what Alan Greenspan didn't see coming, because nobody did: That the wealthy corporate types who read the Journal's editorial pages would capture so much more of the nation's wealth in the coming decades. The cap on payroll taxes (currently about $106,000) was designed to capture 90 percent of the nation's income. But because so much wealth has been transferred to the highest earners, it's projected to capture only 83 percent in 2014.
Social Security still has a $2.6 trillion trust fund. But once that runs out, payroll tax revenues in our newer, more inequitable United States are projected to cover only about 78 percent of benefits. That will happen sometime in the mid-2030's, unless we lift the cap and perhaps make some other changes as well.
That's not what Hoyer told his Wall Street readers. He concluded, "We simply need the bipartisan will to choose and implement such reforms" -- and by "reforms" he meant "cuts." Why would he take a position like that?
The same is true for Medicare and Medicaid. Their long-term cost problems, which are enormous, don't stem from overly-generous benefits. Other countries give better coverage at much less cost. Our cost problems are the result of a basic structural problem: We're the only developed nation with a profit-based health system, which includes insurers, hospitals and drug manufacturers.
And we're the only one in which these for-profit companies drive the political process with campaign cash. But Hoyer didn't say that. Perhaps not coincidentally, the industry that gave the most to Hoyer's war chest was insurance. Next came "health professionals," which can include overpaid specialists and doctors who own high-cost clinics and group practices. Pharmaceutical and health product companies came in eighth.
All of these industries would lose a lot of money if we seriously tackled our Medicare and Medicaid health care cost problem. Hoyer's solution? Raise the retirement age and cut benefits instead.
Now Hoyer's prepared to run another self-aggrandizing play, grabbing some newspaper headlines for himself by placing his party's prospects - and the retirement security of millions of Americans -- in danger. That will please his friends, and will certainly help the Republicans, but it's a sure route to disaster for the nation and his party if he pursues it. He's even saying things like, "I will keep pushing to get an agreement before November."
Why it's almost as if he wants ... nah, never mind. That's crazy. Maybe Hoyer, who is seventy years old himself (they held a fundraiser to celebrate his birthday), just assumes that other cash-strapped seventy-year-old will hold a few fundraisers too.
"Are there no Hotel George? Are there no Johnny's Half Shell?"
Whatever Hoyer's motives, poll after poll has shown that solid majorities in both parties reject the Hoyer/GOP view that Social Security or Medicare should be cut to reduce the deficit (which, in any case, isn't affected by Social Security). Hoyer's "bipartisanship" is the mirror image of the bipartisan views outside the Beltway -- the ones held by voters.
The Republicans will sort themselves out and field a candidate. If it's Romney, as once again seems likely, the election will turn into even more of a referendum on the Democrats and the economy. Let the GOP decide who it wants to run this year. The Democrats need to decide what they stand for.
As a nonpartisan observer, my greatest concern is the financial security of the middle-class and lower-income people who depend on these programs. Hoyer's promoting all of the usual prefabricated lies, misinformation and spin that put us at risk for destructive and unnecessary cuts.
But if I were a party activist, I suppose the question I would be asking myself would be this: With Democrats like Steny Hoyer, who needs Republicans?
You might ask him that if you're ever down at Johnny's Half Shell.
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future and the host of The Breakdown, which is broadast on WeAct Radio, AM 1480 in Washington DC>