3. CORPORATIONS, SPECIAL INTERESTS, AND ECONOMIC POLICY – 3.1 Election funding – Bush did: He accepted large donations from large corporations in exchange for friendly policy. New employees for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission were hand-picked by Enron. Oil and gas companies received large public subsidies. – Obama said: He proposed a fundraising truce: “I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.” (Midwest Democracy Network Questionnaire, September 2007) He said he doesn’t take money from oil companies nor Washington lobbyists. (Campaign commercial during the presidential primaries) – Obama did: In June 2008, Obama gave up on public financing and raised more money than any other political campaign in history. A vast portion of his funding came from corporations, mostly from Wall Street, the top contributor being Goldman Sachs. His entire initial economic team was made up of Wall Street insiders; also, he took large sums from oil and gas companies, especially British Petroleum.
3.2 The bank bailout, the foreclosure crisis, and financial reform – Bush did: He initiated the rescue with taxpayer money. – Obama said: “The Treasury must use the authority it’s been granted and move aggressively to help people avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.” “I’ve proposed a three-month moritorium on foreclosures so that we give people the breathing room they need to get back on their feet.” (St. Louis, Missouri, October 18, 2008) “It does offend our values when executives of big financial firms that are struggling, pay themselves huge bonuses, even as they rely on extraordinary assistance to stay afloat.” ( A statement made on October 22, 2009) – Obama did: Obama continued the bank bailout and expanded it into the trillions of dollars. Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, said that “there is simply nothing (in the financial reform bill) that will rein in our largest financial institutions.” Obama joined George W. Bush in making sure that the TARP legislation would not curb executive salaries nor bonuses.
3.3 The health care bill, insurance companies and big pharma – Bush did: These were happenings after Bush left office. – Obama said: “We’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so the people can see who is making arguments on behalf ot their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies and the insurance companies.” (Town hall meeting in Chester, Virginia, August 21, 2008) He said the question is “whether we’re going to accept a system that works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people…” (Georgetown University, March 19, 2010) – Obama did: The omission of a public option leaves no mechanism to prevent the rise in health care premiums. Obama helped kill a provision in the bill that would have enabled cheap drug imports from abroad, citing “safety concerns.” He also negotiated away the public option. As for future impact, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that more than 20 million people will remain uninsured in 2019.
3.4 Social security – Bush did: In his second term, George W. Bush attempted to partially privatize Social Security and cut benefits. He warned that Social Security must be “fixed” before it goes bankrupt. – Obama said: “Obama and Biden will protect Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries alike. And they do not believe it is necessary or fair to hard-working seniors to raise the retirement age.” (Campaign staterment on Obama’s website) “Social security is not in crisis.” (Town hall meeting, Columbus, Ohio, August 18, 2010) “The best way to approach this is to adjust the cap on the payroll tax so that people like myself are paying a little bit more and the people in need are protected.” (“Meet the Press” interview, November 11, 2007) – Obama did: During the debt ceiling negotiations, Obama proposed slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as discontinuing a number of social programs. He said: “We can’t afford these programs right now.” Obama has also come out in favor of changing the COL increases for Social Security beneficiaries to what is called a “chained” formula.
3.5 Bush tax cuts and corporate taxes – Bush did: He secured passage of large tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, heavily skewed to the wealthy. One estimate being that 56 percent of the cuts went to the top five percent of tax filers. In 2004, Bush signed corporate tax legislation providing $136 billion in tax breaks to businesses, corporate farms and other groups. – Obama said: “I want to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans. 95 percent. If you make less than a quarter million a year you will not see a single dime of your taxes go up.” (Second presidential debate, October 2008) “We will take those tax breaks away from the wealthiest Americans and put them in the pockets of hard-working Americans.” (Campaign rally, February 18, 2008) – Obama did: He agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years and handed the GOP a massive cut in estate taxes for estates valued at $5 million or more. He said that the tax cuts would “create millions of jobs,” while telling National Public Radio that the deal would not create “a single job.” He even said that the tax cuts were “not a smart thing to do.”
Beginning on January 1, 2013, the Bush tax cuts will be extended indefinitely for individuals earning under $400,000 and families earning under $450,000, leading the GOP to boast that Obama had agreed to extending 84 percent of the cuts. Obama also wants to lower the corporate tax rate, even though many profitable corporations pay little or no tax.
3.6 Free trade agreements – Bush did: He supported free trade agreements. – Obama said: “Trade deals like NAFTA ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with teenagers to work for minimum wage at Walmart.” (Victory speech at Potomac primary night, February 12, 2008) “We need to use the hammer of potential opt-out as leverage to get environmental and labor standards enforced… I don’t think NAFTA has been good and I never have.” (Primary debate with Hillary Clinton on MSNBC, February 26, 2008) – Obama did: As a U.S. senator, Obama mostly supported free trade legislation. In an interview witrh Fortune magazine, Obama titled “NAFTA not so bad after all.” His campaign stance was that he did not want to renegotiate NAFTA unilaterally. He told Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he did not want to disrupt free trade between the two countries.