Jeb! Bush Vows To Cripple Government

Dave Johnson

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush gave a speech last Monday at an event organized by a corporate lobbying group in which he vowed to cripple our government. So who gets to be in charge if he succeeds? Who decides how to allocate our country’s resources, determine and enforce our country’s economic policies, who pays to build roads and schools and our other public assets?

If you look at who organized the speech, you might find a clue about who Bush thinks should do these things.

Bush’s speech was at Florida State University, ostensibly on the subject of “government reform” and the cozy relationship between lobbyists and government officials. His solutions, however, included proposals to get the government out of the way of corporations by essentially crippling it if elected.

● Bush promised to cut the federal workforce by an additional 10 percent by hiring replacing every three employees who leave with one hire. Currently the federal workforce is strapped and demoralized. Cut after cut has left people trying to do the job that several people had done before.
● He said he would stop giving raises to public employees, who he says are all “overpaid” – guaranteeing attrition. This would quickly cause those three employees to leave, to be replaced by only one, who then has to try to do the work of the three.
● He said he would remove “due process” and make government employees “at will” so he can fire all the Democrats employed by the government.
● He proposes to give managers bonuses and pay incentives for “reducing spending.” There is no consideration here for the role of government. The incentive here is only to gut government.
● He said he would push for a “line item veto,” which allows the president and not Congress to decide which parts of government to fund.
● He wants a balanced budget amendment that is designed to be “a tool to limit government — not raise taxes.” This forces extreme cuts in the things government does to protect us from corporate exploitation and pollution, and to otherwise make our lives better.

The idea that government is supposed to serve the public and make our lives better does not come into Bush’s proposals or arguments in any way. It is just not a consideration. His audience of corporate executive donors and tea-party types has been propagandized with antigovernment rhetoric to the point that they have an outright hatred of government and anything it does. They believe government only exists to help “those people” and get in the way of business. Bush is betting that any proposals gut and cripple government will gain him support in the primaries.

Brought To You by Lobbyists

Bush couched his attack on government as an attack on corruption and lobbyists. In essence, his speech laid out a few of the current problems with our influenced government, and then proposed essentially crippling the government as the solution.

Bush, a former registered lobbyist himself, gave his speech at an event organized by a corporate lobbying group. Andrew Perez and David Sirota explain at the International Business Times, in “Jeb Bush Speech Denouncing Lobbyists Was Organized By Corporate Lobbying Group,”

In his speech in Tallahassee, Florida, on Monday denouncing the influence of lobbyists, Jeb Bush neglected to mention one critical detail: The event was organized by a powerful corporate lobbying group that has helped financially support his White House bid.

… Bush was touting his clean-government credentials at a function organized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, a private lobbying group for the state’s business community. Emails obtained by International Business Times show that Bush’s campaign coordinated the event with the chamber, whose political committee has donated to a super PAC backing Bush’s bid for president.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce spent nearly $200,000 lobbying Florida lawmakers last year, and the group’s political committees have spent roughly $5.6 million to influence state elections since 2013. The chamber also employs a Florida lobbying firm – composed of former government officials – that is a top Bush campaign donor.

Steve Benen caught the summary at the Rachel Maddow blog, in “The trouble with Bush’s proposed lobbying reforms,”

But some of the relevant details make the former governor an imperfect messenger. Politico’s Marc Caputo, for example, reported that the forum at which Bush spoke was apparently organized by the Chamber of Commerce. “So Jeb gave a speech about lobbyist reforms to a room of lobbyists at a college run by a former lobbyist at a forum organized by lobbyists who then denied they organized it,” Caputo wrote. [Update: My friends at the International Business Times first reported on this on Tuesday.]

There’s also the inconvenient fact that Bush, despite his concerns about lobbyists’ influence, has received generous financial support from lobbyists: “The campaign disclosed last week that eight lobbyists bundled a total of $228,400 of the $11.4 million raised in the first 15 days of Mr. Bush’s campaign – more money from the industry than any other Republican candidate.”

Even the Wall Street Journal was skeptical of Bush’s claim that he will fight lobbyists. In “Jeb Bush Takes Aim at Lobbyists,” the WSJ reports:

In December 2005, one year before he left office, Mr. Bush signed a law requiring lobbyists to disclose their compensation and banning them from plying lawmakers with meals and gifts. On Monday, Mr. Bush called the measure “the strictest lobbying reforms in the country.”

However, state disclosure reports show that the lobbying community saw robust growth after the law was passed. Lobbyists reported fees ranging from about $145 million to $219 million in 2007, according to filings with the state. Those dollar figures have risen gradually since Mr. Bush left office to a range of $178 million to $264 million in 2013. The range of the reported payments dipped in 2014 to $150 million to $240 million.

In addition, lobbyists found ways around the Florida law by contributing to lawmakers’ political committees, which could then use the funds to pay for meals, travel and more. “It stopped us from getting coffee and a muffin but allowed us to get wheelbarrows of cash,” said former Democratic House Majority Leader Dan Gelber. The new committees were banned in 2013 in another effort to curb special interests.

Another sign that the Florida law failed to mitigate the sector’s influence: The number of registrations for legislative lobbyists increased from 7,915 in 2004 to 10,507 today, including lobbyists representing multiple clients.

“I think Gov. Bush helped usher in and encourage the rise of the super lobbying firms we see today,” said Ben Wilcox, research director at Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.

From Influence To Outright Control

Currently our country has a terrible problem of billionaires and their giant corporations having enormous influence over our government. They are able to use this influence to “rig the rules” of our economy in their own favor, and all the gains of our economy now go to them as a result. The rest of us seem to fall further and further behind.

But suppose Bush and the corporations and billionaires funding his campaign actually succeed in “getting government out of the way?” Bush’s proposals would destroy the ability of our government to protect us from exploitation and fraud, protect our environment from degradation and to do the things it does (or used to do) to make our lives better. What would our lives be like if that happened?


Also see Matt Murray at NH Labor News, “Jeb Bush Essentially Says To Federal Workers, Screw You!

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