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Full Employment For Lobbyists

Robert J. Samuelson spots the next Obama promise headed for the dust-heap of history: eliminating the influence of lobbyists:

The only way to eliminate lobbying and special interests is to eliminate government. The more powerful government becomes, the more lobbying there will be. So, paradoxically, Obama’s ambitions for more expansive government will promote special pleading. You need only watch the response to the expected “economic stimulus” plan — totaling perhaps $700 billion — to verify this eternal truth. “A Lobbying Frenzy for Federal Funds,” read the headline of one Post story.
There’s more to come. Obama envisions refashioning a third of the economy: the health-care sector, representing about 16 percent of gross domestic product; the energy sector, nearly 10 percent of GDP; and the financial sector (banks, securities brokers, insurance companies), about 8 percent of GDP. There will be a vast mobilization of interests: from radiologists to renewable energy producers; from mutual funds to hospitals. Says Bara Vaida, the respected lobbying reporter for National Journal: “This will be a bonanza for K Street” — the symbolic hub of Washington lobbyists.

Samuelson contends that lobbyists aren’t so bad — they are veritable portraits of democracy in action. Well, that is one way of looking at it. Another is that the opportunities for mischief-making expand geometrically with each accretion to government. Each new program or policy affects multiple interests, who in turn set their sights on influencing those who make laws and perform oversight functions. Lobbyists do not just come armed with facts and clever arguments. They come with suitcases of cash.

Hence we have the reality, or the suspicion, that the “fix” is in, that the regulated are calling the tune on the regulators and the one with the most cash (not the most pervasive argument) wins the day. While Samuelson points to the AARP and AFL-CIO as evidence that the “wealthy” don’t have all the lobbyists, I’m not particularly moved. (We’ll put aside for a moment the issue of whether, as a relative matter, senior citizens and unionized workers don’t make out better than the young and non-unionized workers.) The issue is whether we have more ethical and effective government by virtue of the expansion of the public sector and, correspondingly, of special interests. The answer, I think, is plainly “no.”



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