It was reported by the Associated Press last month that lobbying costs in our Nation’s Capitol have hit a new high. Health care and business interests led the way, as a record $3.5 billion was spent on lobbying last year. This was largely aimed at the Obama Administration’s efforts to reshape federal policy for the medical, financial and energy industries. Even though most Americans are hurting because of the recession, it appears the powerful special interest lobbyists are doing just fine. A stagnant national economy and the worst unemployment in nearly three decades hasn’t slowed down the special interest groups.
Lobbying expenditures grew by 5% from the $3.3 billion spent in 2008, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The growth also came despite efforts by President Barack Obama to curb lobbyists’ influence. The figures underline the vast and growing sums that special interest groups are spending to shape laws and regulations and to protect their turf both in Congress and in the executive branch. Put another way, the $3.5 billion is about half of what the government expects to spend this year on the entire federal court system. That’s extremely difficult to explain to folks who believe that the court system is an important function of government, and is the only place ordinary citizens can go looking for protection of their rights and liberties.
Let’s take a look at where some of the lobbying money comes from. Makers of pharmaceuticals and health products spent $267 million lobbying, the most ever recorded by a single industry in a year. Business associations spent $183 million, the second highest total. Among individual groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was easily the biggest spender at $145 million, with ExxonMobil Corp. being a distant second at $27 million. Highlighting how lobbying expenditures have grown in recent years, that type spending was $1.4 billion in 1998, the first year for which the Center has comparable figures.
The time has come for Congress to reign in the influence of the powerful lobbyists. But when you consider that the lobbyists have literally run the show in our Nation’s Capitol for years, it’s real easy to see how difficult it is to deal with this monumental problem. Congress would have to actually “bite the hand” that’s been feeding it and therein lies the real problem. Nevertheless, unless members of the House and Senate recognize the mood of the American people and get to work, I predict many of them could find themselves unemployed after the next Congressional elections.
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