And after the meeting, what were the headlines about? The Keystone XL pipeline.
Say, what? Our economic recovery is at stake. There are huge decisions about what sort of government we will have – one that benefits the rich and powerful, or one that takes care of the aged and poor? Austerity or growth? Contractors or entitlements? Deficit reduction or stimulus?
And the headlines are about a private company’s proposal to build an oil pipeline? Gotta wonder.
Remember December 2011? Desperate times for tens of millions of Americans who were out of work. Finally, at the last minute, there was a political compromise: “An Act to extend the payroll tax holiday, unemployment compensation, Medicare physician payment, provide for the consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline, and for other purposes”.
For policy wonks, that bill was a fascinating political compromise. In exchange for an expedited permitting process for this one private construction project, all costs associated with the bill were exempted from statutory “PAY-GO” requirements. In plain English, that means Congress added all of the bill’s costs to the federal debt without any consideration about how to pay for them.
So, how much did that bill cost? My best estimate, based on an earlier version of the bill, is about $30 billion (and only part of that total was attributable to the emergency unemployment extension). Step back and look at that political “compromise” from the perspective of an old-fashioned, fiscally-conservative Republican: $30 billion of federal debt was traded for the expedited permitting of a single private construction project.
Waiting for the punch line? Grover Norquist is their lobbyist. He has been using his position at Americans for Tax Reform to push for the project’s permitting – in whatever bill he can use to get it through Congress.
The merits of the project? Depends on who you ask, what source you trust. When Cornell University researchers looked at the data submitted to the State Department, its researchers found that “the project will create no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years… based on the figures provided by TransCanada… the new permanent US pipeline jobs number as few as 50.”
So, who exactly is going to benefit? Here’s one guess about the three companies whose stockholders stand to benefit the most.
Having watched that huge “political compromise” back in December 2011, I’m guessing yesterday’s headlines mean that the pending budget and government shutdown bills are going to end up as interesting political compromises, too.
If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Norquist, read more here.