On the News With Thom Hartmann: We Spend $2 Billion a Year on Congress

In today’s On the News segment: We spend about $2 billion every year on our dysfunctional Congress; one woman in Texas says that she can use a so-called religious freedom law to feed the homeless; Senator Warren and her colleagues sent a letter to the FCC asking that agency to reject the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. You may be surprised to learn that we spend about $2 billion every year on our dysfunctional Congress. However, it’s even more surprising to learn that corporate lobbyists spend even more to buy off our federal lawmakers. According to a recent article by Ezra Klein over at Vox.com, corporations outspend US taxpayers by more than half of a billion dollars. Yet, some people actually wonder why Congress is so beholden to their corporate masters. The money we pay as taxpayers funds lawmakers’ salaries, their staff and the Congressional Budget Office and Congressional Research Service, which are the two agencies responsible for educating our lawmakers about the bills they vote on. When corporations want Congress to vote in their favor, they do much more than just contribute to a lawmaker’s next election. Lobbyists also use stockpiles of corporate cash to pay pro-business think tanks to generate billionaire-friendly “studies.” Then then use those industry-funded studies to convince members of Congress to vote in the best interest of corporations rather than in the best interest of working Americans. Although Congress has agencies to conduct research, there’s no way that the CBO or CRS can compete with billion-dollar industries. To make matters worse, Congresspeople don’t only have to resist the corporate money – they often have to resist the influence of their former colleagues and staffers. Corporate lobbying firms scoop up nearly every retired lawmakers and well-connected staffer they can get their hands on, and they pay them far more than the taxpayers ever could. For the first time in our history, getting elected to Congress is more about the lobbying job of the future than it is about governing our country. It’s time to end the revolving door between Congress and lobbying firms, and to get the corporate influence out of our nation’s capital. Let’s keep up the fight to get money out and take our democracy back.

If Indiana can let people use so-called religious freedom to discriminate, one woman in Texas says that she can use a similar law to feed the homeless. For the last decade, Joan Cheever of San Antonio has been serving meals to the homeless. However, that didn’t stop police officers from writing her a $2,000 ticket for serving food without a permit. Unlike those who want to claim their religion gives them the right to hate others, Ms. Cheevers says that the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act gives her the right to care for the homeless as part of her religion. And, you can certainly find plenty of religious teachings about caring for those in need. All over our country, states and municipalities have criminalized homelessness and punished those who try to help people who live on the street. From Florida fining a couple $600 for feeding the homeless to various cities making it a crime to sit or lay down in public, there has been an all-out attack on the homeless in our nation. Now, more than ever, the compassionate work of people like Joan Cheever should be celebrated, not banned. And, if we happen to find a positive use for these right-to-discriminate laws, than that’s just an extra bonus.

It’s not often that US senators stand up to big business, but when they do, they usually have help from Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Last week, Senator Warren and five of her colleagues sent a letter to the FCC asking that agency to reject the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger. Days later, it was announced that the deal was being scrapped If the $45.2 billion merger was allowed to through, one company would have controlled 57 percent of all broadband internet and 30 percent of cable television service for the whole country. That also would have meant that one massive company would have controlled news and information for a very large portion of the US. The resulting company would have also been so large that the Justice Department was looking into anti-trust prohibitions. Together with Senators Al Franken, Bernie Sanders, Ron Wyden, Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey, Senator Warren should be applauded for standing up to this media giant, and helping stop the Comcast Time-Warner merger.

Austerity is harming more than just our economy. According to an open letter from four hundred mental-health experts, budget cuts are extremely harmful to the psychological well-being and overall quality of life of those impacted by austerity. Although the letter focused on the harmful effects of budget cuts in Britain, the warning has broader implications for all nations that have pursued austerity. The experts wrote, “the past five years have seen a radical shift in the kinds of issues generating distress in our clients: increasing inequality and outright poverty, [and] families forced to move against their wishes.” They added, “perhaps the most important, benefits claimants (including the disabled and ill people) and those seeking work are being subjected to a quite new, intimidatory kind of disciplinary regime.” If these problems don’t sound familiar, you haven’t been paying attention. Regardless of which country we’re talking about, the effects are the same, and that’s exactly why we need to put an end to austerity once and for all.

And finally… progressive federal lawmakers aren’t the only ones fighting for working Americans. Last week, the Connecticut state legislature advanced a bill that would make it harder for big businesses to skimp on workers’ wages. The measure would fine large, non-union companies that pay workers less than $15 an hour. As expected, Republicans in that state criticized the bill as being “anti-business,” but Connecticut Democrats said that they need to worry about more than just being business-friendly. State Sen. Edwin A. Gomes said, “I think it’s time to be employee friendly.” In addition to generating about $300 million a year for the state of Connecticut to offset corporate welfare in the the form of food stamps, housing assistance and medicaid paid to low-wage employees, this bill could entice big companies to raise wages. Large Connecticut employers have the option of paying more to the state or more to workers. Either way, it could be a big win for the state of Connecticut.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of April 27, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.