It was just your typical piece of congressional dirty work. As 1999 wound down, the House and Senate passed the District of Columbia Appropriations Act. You might think that would be a boring piece of legislation. You would be wrong. For buried in the endless clauses authorizing such spending items as $867 million for education and $5 million to promote the adoption of foster children was Section 6001: Superfund Recycling Equity. It had nothing to do with the District of Columbia, nor appropriations, nor "equity" as it is commonly defined.
Instead Section 6001 was inserted in the appropriations bill by Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Senate majority leader, to take the nation's scrap-metal dealers off the hook for millions of dollars in potential Superfund liabilities at toxic-waste sites. In doing so, Lott had the support of colleagues in both parties.
This early Christmas present to the scrap-metal dealers--who contributed more than $300,000 to political candidates and committees during the 1990s--made them very happy. Others in the recycling chain were not so happy. All of a sudden, they were potentially responsible for millions of dollars in damages the junkmen might otherwise have had to pay.
While clever in its obscurity, Section 6001 is not an especially big giveaway by Capitol Hill standards. Rather, it is typical among the growing litany of examples of how Washington extends favorable treatment to one set of citizens at the expense of another. It's a process that frequently causes serious, sometimes fatal economic harm to unwary individuals and businesses that are in the way.
How do you get that favorable treatment? If you know the right people in Congress and in the White House, you can often get anything you want. And there are two surefire ways to get close to those people:
--Contribute to their political campaigns. --Spend generously on lobbying.
If you do both of these things, success will maul you like groupies at a rock concert. If you do neither--and this is the case with about 200 million individuals of voting age and several million corporations--those people in Washington will treat you accordingly. In essence, campaign spending in America has divided all of us into two groups: first- and second-class citizens. This is what happens if you are in the latter group:
You pick up a disproportionate share of America's tax bill.
You pay higher prices for a broad range of products, from peanuts to prescription drugs.
You pay taxes that others in a similar situation have been excused from paying.
You are compelled to abide by laws while others are granted immunity from them.
You must pay debts that you incur while others do not.
You are barred from writing off on your tax return some of the money spent on necessities while others deduct the cost of their entertainment.
You must run your business by one set of rules while the government creates another set for your competitors.
In contrast, first-class citizens--the fortunate few who contribute to the right politicians and hire the right lobbyists--enjoy all the benefits of their special status. Among them:
If they make a bad business decision, the government bails them out.