You may have noticed that Congress is in session and holding public hearings designed to make the evening news. Does this mean the legislating branch is doing its work? No, it means the members are up for re-election and have arranged to generate some sound-bites and video clips useful for inclusion in their re-elections ads.
Take Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala), please. He’s the Senate Banking Committee Chairman and was therefore presiding over the hearing called for the purpose of raking the crooks at Wells Fargo over the coals.
Did he excoriate the megabuck bank for chicanery aimed at meeting sales goals? No, he reamed out the regulators. “If there ever was a textbook case where consumers needed protection,” Shelby drawled in his Senator Claghorn dialect, “This was it. How many millions of unauthorized accounts does it take before the CFPB notices?”
Thank God, Shelby’s looking out for our financial welfare. Or is he looking out for his own? This is the same chap who fought tooth and nail against the Dodd-Frank legislation that was designed to impose greater discipline on the banking industry in order to avoid another debacle like 2008.
Shelby also opposed the creation of the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) that is supposed to keep the average consumer of financial services from being bilked and exploited by the industry. He tried to kill the authorizing legislation, to make sure its inventor, Elizabethan Warren, wouldn’t get to head it, and has tried to have its power and budget limited ever since.
Now, for the cameras, he bemoaned its ineffectiveness in doing the job he didn’t want done in the first place. Classic campaign hypocrisy, especially when it’s coming from a guy who has taken $545,000 in contributions from the securities industry, $519,000 from banks, $342,000 from insurance companies and another $500,000 from miscellaneous finance, credit and real estate companies, not to mention the law firms and lobbyists who represent them.
Meanwhile, on the House side, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee was turning Mylan CEO Heather Bresch on a spit for raising the price of lifesaving EpiPens 548 percent since 2007.
Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) feigned incredulity that Big Pharma would price gouge helpless patients. Or maybe he was simply admonishing his paymsters to not be so embarrassingly blatant about their greed. He asked if Mylan never anticipated a bad reaction to the ripoff. “You raised the price, what did you think was going to happen?”
Once again, this is all a mime show aimed at fooling the home folks into thinking Chaffetz is on the case, protecting their interests from corporate cupidity. But, in fact, the number one industry in campaign contributions to Chaffetz is Big Pharma with a friendly $100,000 donated in the last two years.
If Congress was really conducting oversight it would hold hearings on thieves like Mylan and Wells Fargo before their bad behavior made the evening news or the front page of The Wall Street Journal, not after.
Constituents and voters should listen to what their representatives say, of course, but they should also watch what they vote for and against, and pay attention to who funds their campaigns. You can find out what’s really up from websites like OpenSecrets.org and Ballotpedia.org.
You can also see how hard your representatives are working for you by checking out the House and Senate calendars. This year, they took a nice seven-week summer vacation from July 18 to September 6, no doubt to raise campaign funds. But now they are hard at work. Not legislating or conducting actual oversight, but getting their faces on the evening news by grandstanding at hearings for a grueling 15 days. That’s right, three weeks.
Then they’ll be off campaigning for reelection for another five weeks, from October 3 to November 11th. And after that it will be a lame duck Congress so nothing much will be done until after the new president is sworn in on January 20th, 2017. So another nine weeks free of legislative work.
And they are expected to perform all these arduous duties for a measly $174,000 a year. No wonder so many leave public service to shill for the industries they aided and abetted while in Congress, or for the lobbyists who do their bidding. After all, the business of America is business, whether you’re in Congress or not.