The Hightower Lowdown

Treasury Sec. Paul O'Neill pitches Bush tax breaks, Newt Gingrich is a business consultant, Congressional fundraising among freshman is out of control

Bush's Drug Problem

"We must leave no one behind," is the compassionate-conservative mantra of George W. But in his first chance to put his compassionate-conservative rhetoric into action, Bush leaves more than three of four Americans behind. Since drug companies are gouging American consumers with astronomical prescription prices, even Congress has felt the heat of public anger and is planning to put some sort of salve on the financial pain that the drug makers are inflicting on senior citizens. The major proposal being considered is to put prescription drugs under Medicare and let the federal government bargain with the companies to get the cheapest price. This would provide needed medicines for all seniors while also stopping some of the corporate rip-off. It's simple, effective, and fair.

But President Compassionate mostly feels the pain of the big drug makers, who also were big contributors to his campaign and don't want to stop the gouging. So, he has presented his own prescription drug plan, which makes him appear to be filled with compassion for the 37 million seniors needing medicine ... but the Bush proposal completely excludes 25 million of them! Sixty percent of these people have no insurance coverage at all for their medicines -- so they're totally left out in the cold.

Worse, Bush leaves it to the states to bargain with the drug giants on prices. Even those states that have the will to undertake this face-off don't have the clout, so there'll be little drop in prices and the companies will laugh all the way to the bank. Another cute trick Bush plays on us is to make the implementation of his plan so befuddling, burdensome, and bureaucratic that even the few who qualify won't find their way through the swamp he throws them into.

We'll offer education and retraining programs for them.

Vox Populi

When watching the Bush administration in action, I don't know whether to cry -- or laugh out loud. Take Paul O'Neill, the CEO of Alcoa who was named to head the treasury department. He's the point man on Bush's tax cut for the rich. Even O'Neill concedes that nearly half of this $2 trillion giveaway will go to the wealthiest 1% of Americans. But give Paul points for trying. He's not just hiding inside the walls of Washington, he's going out to talk to the people about the plan. Well, actually, he's only made one trip outside his bunker -- it was billed as a one-day "listening tour" of New York City. Was he going out to Queens to talk with working-class folks, or up to the streets of Harlem to listen to poor folks? Hardly. His "tour" made only a single stop: Wall Street. The "people" invited to his listening tour were a couple of dozen top executives from the biggest banks, stock exchanges, and hedge funds, including Citigroup, Paine Webber, Nasdaq, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. At this closed-door meeting under crystal chandeliers in an ornate meeting room of an exclusive hotel, O'Neill said that he'd come to hear the thoughts of these financiers about Bush's tax cut. He explained the plan, under which most people in the room would receive more than a million dollars each in new tax breaks. Guess what? They loved it! One attendee told The New York Times after the meeting that "There was total unanimity in that group that the income tax package was the right medicine for the economy." Another fat cat financier who could barely stop drooling over O'Neill's presentation said: "I liked what I heard, I really liked what I heard."

He's Back!

I have wonderful news. He's back. Newt Gingrich -- the shooting star of right-wing politics. The Georgia firebrand streaked to power in 1995, becoming Speaker of the House, only to fizzle out only three years later, not only resigning in infamy as leader of his party, but also resigning his seat in Congress. Then he fell further into the cold political darkness, because the Newt, who'd been such a loud proponent of family and personal morality, confessed that he was dumping his loyal, second wife, Marilyn, in favor of a young congressional aide with whom he'd been having an affair. This was especially poignant, since, at the time, Newt had been something of a scold about Bill Clinton's marital infidelities. It was a case of Gingrich being hoist on his own petard, so to speak.

Well, I'm delighted to report that Newt is back on the scene -- not as a politico, but (get this) as a "corporate strategic consultant." How appropriate. This is the guy who literally waved corporate lobbyists directly into the lawmaking process when he was in charge of the House, allowing them to draft anti-environmental, anti-consumer, and anti-worker legislation. But now, he's advising corporations on marketing strategies, and his Gingrich Group claims to have lined up 20 clients trying to sell everything from water-soluble golf tees to computer hookups at truck stops.

"At his core, Newt is a visionary," says one of his G Group colleagues, adding that Newt "can walk into a particular context, analyze what's going on, and from that comes [bomb] an explosion of ideas and action items." Hmmmm. That combination of raw ego and explosiveness is what messed him up before. He is the guy, after all, who once described himself as the "teacher of the rules of civilization."

Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is available in stores everywhere.
For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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