Former Congressional staffer on how money divides politics
Speaker of the House John Boehner swears-in the House of Representatives following his election in the House chamber January 5, 2011 in Washington, D.C.
Jeremy Hobson: Congress has left Washington for the August recess, and still no firm plans to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" of spending cuts and tax increases due to go into effect at the end of this year. Those cuts were set in motion during the debt ceiling fight, which Mike Lofgren remembers well. It convinced him to pack his bags after nearly 30 years working for Republicans on Capitol Hill.
He's just written a book called "The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted" and he's with us now to talk about it. Good morning.
Mike Lofgren: Good to be here.
Hobson: What was it about that debt ceiling fight that was so much different than all the other big political fights that have happened during your tenure in the Capitol?
Lofgren: Well, I think we’ve heretofore passed debt limit increases about 87 times since World War II without any problem. And yet, Republicans in particular in the House were holding the nation’s credit rating hostage to what they wanted to get.
Hobson: Well of course, the Republicans only had that debt ceiling fight, they said, because they were worried about the nation's huge debt and deficits.
Lofgren: Superficially that's true, but from what I saw in the House and Senate budget committees, it's a kind of phony claim, because they always subordinate deficit reduction to giving tax breaks to their wealthy contributors. So I think the deficit hawk claim is fraudulent -- it's simply bait to get concerned Americans to vote for them.
Hobson: Well so how did we get here, how did we get to this point? Is it campaign finance; is it just the culture of Washington? What happened?
Lofgren: I think it's a congruence of corporate money taking over the system, and the rise of a polarized nation based on 24/7 talk radio, and cable catfights on television. And both parties are controlled by their campaign donations; both are sort of corporate controlled. The Democrats are a little more ashamed about it, but they still respond to those signals from corporate America. For instance, Obama's health care bill was kind of a cornucopia for the insurance companies -- since they maintain a lot of subsidies -- and big pharma gets a payday just as it previously did.
Hobson: So what do we do from here? I mean, how do we fix the system so that it works for people, works for the middle class in this country?
Lofgren: I believe the first step is to get the money out of politics. Now that's a very hard thing to do because we've got a Supreme Court decision that basically says: Anything goes. But as long as the politicians -- and I'm not saying by any means they're all corrupt. There are many honest people, but they're in a situation where they have to play the same game, or they're gone, because any opponent can simply out raise them and avalanche them with money.
Hobson: Mike Lofgren, author of the book "The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted," thank you so much for talking with us.
Lofgren: Thank you very much.