Saturday, March 18, 2006

New House Majority Leader Needs To Go The Way Of The Old Majority Leader

John Boehner was elected House Majority Leader because he was a "reformer" who famously opposed "earmarks" or sweeteners being added to House bills late in the legislation process in order to ensure passage.

GOP members wanted their new Leader to be without the "taint of corruption" that brought down former House Majority Leader Tom Delay and ended Delay's handpicked successor, Roy Blunt's, campaign to replace him.

But while Boehner's stance on earmarks is an improvement upon both Tom Delay and Roy Blunt, in other ways Boehner is just as corrupt as the old Hammer ever was. At the time of his election, many critics noted Boehner was very, very close with lobbyists in industries his House committees oversaw, like the student loan and for-profit online college industries. Others felt Boehner seemed pretty lukewarm to the lobbying reform legislation that was awaiting (and still is) passage in the House.

But even though I suspected Boehner was pretty dirty, I never thought he was this dirty (per Jeffrey Birnbaum in the Washington Post):

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), who rose to power in the wake of a congressional lobbying scandal, spent the equivalent of nearly six months on privately funded trips over the past six years, according to a new study by a nonpartisan research group.

The Center for Public Integrity said that Boehner accepted 42 privately sponsored trips from January 2000 to December 2005. That put him on the road to other countries and "golfing hotspots," often with his wife, Debbie, for about half a year, "only nine days of which he listed as being 'at personal expense,' " the center said.

Boehner also flew at least 45 times on corporate jets owned by companies "with a financial stake in congressional affairs" from June 2001 through September 2005, the center reported. The corporations on whose planes Boehner flew included tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco (15 times), UST Inc. (seven times) and Swisher International Inc. (seven times).

"Boehner is one of Congress' most frequent corporate fliers," Roberta Baskin, executive director of the center, said, based on a review of other lawmakers' disclosure forms.

Boehner rejected that characterization and offered himself as an agent of change, especially on the issue of congressional ethics. The center concluded, however, that Boehner built "a network of political and business relationships" with corporations and other interests "not unlike" his predecessor, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), whose tenure in the job was controversial in large part because of his close ties to lobbyists and lobbying groups. DeLay stepped down last year after he was indicted in Texas on charges of political money laundering.

So where has Boehner traveled on the dimes of his favorite corporate lobbyists and what kinds of gifts have he and his staff received?

Among the places Boehner traveled on privately financed trips were Edinburgh, Scotland; Venice; Brussels; and Barcelona, the center said. Two of his domestic destinations, which the center pointed out are famous for their golf courses, were Boca Raton, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz.

The report said Boehner received more than $160,000 in food, lodging, transportation and other expenditures on his privately paid journeys. His benefactors included the Chicago Board of Trade, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, CSX Corp. and the Sallie Mae Foundation.

The congressman also "hosted many high-end fundraisers to wine and dine potential donors and Republican colleagues," the center said. Boehner's Freedom Project political action committee, which he used to help fellow Republicans get elected to Congress, paid more than $119,000 for golf-outing fundraisers from March 2003 through the end of 2005, the center said. It also paid $25,000 to Duck Soup, the "unofficial band of the PGA Tour."

The same leadership PAC spent more than $87,000 on food, beverages and fund-raising costs at Sam & Harry's, a D.C. steakhouse popular with lobbyists, from 2001 through August 2005. It also paid more than $40,000 over two nights at Washington's Hard Rock Cafe, the center reported.

Boehner's spokesman said that those kinds of expenditures were commonplace for fundraising events.

Boehner's staff has benefited from corporate-paid travel. The congressman approved trips taken by dozens of his aides from his personal office and the staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which he chaired starting in 2001. Over the past five years, the center said, his staff aides took more than 150 privately paid trips worth more than $200,000 to locations as far-flung as Japan and Europe.
As chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Boehner has helped pass new regulations on student loans that have fixed interest rates for college students at 6.9% and parents of college students at 8.5% starting July 1st despite the fact that the prime rate remains much lower. College students and parents of college students will also no longer be able to consolidate their loans at lower interest rates even if interest rates fall in the future.

You'll note that one of Boehner's favorite corporate donors is Sallie Mae, the student loan provider. According to the Village Voice, Sallie Mae contributed over $100,000 in the 2003-2004 election cycle to Boehner through PAC's and individual donors. That's 40% of all contributions made to lawmakers by the entire student loan industry!!! Think Progress reported that PoliticalMoneyLine found that of the $572,719 in contributions received by Boehner's Freedom Project PAC, the private student loan industry gave $220,000 including $52,670 from Sallie Mae's officers and that Sallie Mae is Freedom Project's biggest donor.

You'll also note that according to Stephen Burd at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Boehner's daughter, Tricia, works for the General Revenue Corporation, a loan-collection company owned by Sallie Mae.

Finally you'll note that Congress and Preznit Bush have cut the Pell Grant program and replaced much of that student aid money into government subsidies for companies that provide Stafford loans to college students.

John Boehner helped lead that fight and Sallie Mae is the biggest beneficiary of the government's largesse.

Boehner is one dirty motherfucker and it sure would help college students and their families if we could bring Boehner down, or better yet, see him frog-marched into prison on corruption charges.

As a high school teacher of three senior classes this year, I have to tell you that next year's college students are getting hammered with their financial aid packages.

Students who come from families of three or more with overall income of less than $30,000 in New York City are no longer receiving full Pell grants and are instead being loaded up with Stafford and Perkins loans for themselves and PLUS loans for their parents.

One kid, mother making $43,000 with overtime, received no grants at all, though she is eligible for a PLUS loan (8.5% fixed interest.) And before you say that $43,000 a year is a lot of money, remember that this is $43,000 in New York City. That's like $30,000 everywhere else. And this woman is working ten hours or more overtime every week to make that kind of money!

But no Pell grant or TAP for her kid. Just a PLUS loan at 8.5% fixed interest paid to Sallie Mae - first by the federal government, then by the parent who works her ass off to pull in $43,000 in the first place.

Again, I say that Boehner is a dirty motherfucker who must go down the way Tom Delay went down.

When Boehner first took on his chairmanship of the House Education and Workforce Committee, he pledged to "make positive reforms for Americans from grade school to the golden years."

Between the obscene amounts of money fed to him by the college loan and for-profit college and trade school industries, his daughter's position on the payroll of a Sallie Mae subsidiary, and his privately funded junkets to play golf, eat steak with lobbyists, and visit the Hard Rock Cafe for political fundraisers, it is quite obvious that the only "positive reforms" Boehner is making is for himself and his corporate overlords.

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