Corporations, Health and the 2008 Presidential Race, Part 2: Clinton, Obama and McCain on the Role of Corporations

The next President of the US faces some important decisions on the role that corporations will play in politics, the economy and health. He—or she—will need to decide whether to continue or end the Bush Administration’s dismantling of the federal regulatory apparatus, whether and how to restore the FDA’s capacity to protect our food and drugs, what role global corporations will play in setting trade rules, whether to limit or expand the role of money and special interests in politics, and whether or how to counter the health influences of the food, tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical, gun, automobile and other industries. As Americans elect their next Decider-in-Chief, what do we know about the positions of the main contenders on these critical issues? In the first of two reports, Corporations and Health Watch reviews the evidence on the positions of Senators Hilary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama on these questions.

Predicting how a candidate will act once elected is always difficult. As we have seen, he who campaigns as a compassionate conservative can morph into Scrooge. With three sitting Senators running for office, it is possible to compare their votes on critical issues. In addition, by tracking which industries contribute to whom, we can at least see how industry leaders use their checkbooks to rate the candidates. Finally, public statements, campaign websites and prior involvement with corporations provide additional sources of evidence, as do Presidential ratings by advocacy and political groups of various political perspectives.

Role of federal government in corporate oversight

In the last few years, the US Senate has voted on several issues related to government oversight of corporations, providing some insights into the candidates’ views. For example, Senator Clinton voted for restricting rules on personal bankruptcy (2001) (the business position) and for repealing the tax subsidy for companies that move jobs offshore (2005) (against the business position). She has said there is a culture of corruption and cronyism in Washington and that we need to stop outsourcing critical government functions to private companies, close the revolving door between government and the lobbying shop, and end no-bid contracts.1 Recently, her office has issued a report describing her economic blueprint for the 21st century that includes more populist language on corporations than in earlier campaign documents. She calls for leveling the playing field by reducing special breaks for big corporations, and goes on to note:

Over the past seven years, big corporations and special interests have been given a free pass to profit, often at the expense of the American worker. As President, Hillary will make it a priority to scale back special benefits and subsidies to these corporations and put those resources to work for our economy again. She will again take on the special interests and restore the voices of working families. Hillary’s plan to reign in the special interests will take back at least $55 billion per year from drug companies, oil companies, and firms that ship jobs overseas and invest those resources to improve the lives of working families.2

Senator Obama voted against reforming bankruptcy to include means testing and restrictions (2005) and for repealing the tax subsidy for companies that move jobs offshore (2005), both votes against the business position. Obama has said that corporations should be responsible for work conditions and pensions and that there should be tax incentives for corporate responsibility. He has criticized the excess influence of agribusiness lobbying and said he would work to reduce this if he were president. He states that the US should close tax loopholes for companies that relocate abroad and end tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs.1

In these votes, McCain voted for restricting rules on personal bankruptcy (2001), for reforming bankruptcy to include means testing and restrictions (2005), and against repealing the tax subsidy for companies that move jobs offshore (2005)1 all votes in favor of the business positions on these issues. In January 208, McCain advocated making the Bush tax cuts for corporations permanent, noting, I would make sure that not only the tax cuts are made permanent, but we cut corporate income taxes. That would keep businesses here, and it would keep jobs here and create jobs here.

In 2006, based on 12 key Senate votes, the US Chamber of Commerce noted that John McCain endorsed their positions on 100% of the votes, Senator Clinton on 67%, and Senator Obama on 55%. Seventeen other senators, all Republicans, shared McCain’s perfect business rating. Twenty eight senators, all Democrats and one independent, had lower scores than Obama, i.e., were rated less business friendly according to the US Chamber of Commerce criteria. These ratings suggest that both Obama and Clinton vote with business more often than their Democratic colleagues while Senator McCain represents the most-business friendly sector of Republican Senators. More recently, the Chamber of Commerce lowered its rating of Senator McCain to 80%.

Despite this voting record, compared to the other Republican Presidential candidates, Senator McCain has been perceived to be less friendly to business interests. The ISI Group, a New York brokerage firm, noted, If there was a bill negative for HMOs or pharmaceutical companies during the past eight years, chances were good that John McCain was the Republican sponsor.4

On tobacco, in 1998, McCain proposed anti-smoking legislation that would raise taxes on cigarettes, restrict the industry’s ability to advertise, and grant the Food & Drug Administration broad new authority over tobacco companies. The proposal would also have limited liability suits against the Big Tobacco. McCain estimated that his package would cost the industry more than half a billion dollars over 25 years. In an aggressive lobbying campaign, the tobacco industry defeated the measure in the Senate.

In the 2008 primary campaigns, McCain received less money from the tobacco industry than other Republican candidates and less than Clinton and Obama.5 A Republican operative observed that Senator McCain is not well-beloved by the lobbying world, to say the least, and he’s used that to his advantage with voters.3 The recent New York Times story that Senator McCain had a close and what the Times called an inappropriate relationship with a telecommunications lobbyist.

In the 2007 checkbook primary, lobbyists cast their dollar-votes for Senator Clinton, contributing $823,087 to her, compared to $416,321 to Senator McCain and $86,283 to Senator Obama.7

Energy and the Automobile Industry

The next President will need to decide whether to make incremental or substantive changes in US energy policy. What do their voting records say about the current top contenders?

Senator Clinton voted against terminating CAFE standards within 15 months (2002), for targeting 100,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2010 (2003), against the Bush administration’s energy policy (2003), for banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) (2005), for factoring global warming into federal project planning (2007), for making oil-producing and -exporting cartels illegal (2007), and for removing oil and gas exploration subsidies (2007).1

Senator Obama voted for banning drilling in ANWR (2005), for reducing oil usage by 40% by 2025 (2005), for factoring global warming into federal project planning (2007), for making oil-producing and -exporting cartels illegal (2007), and for removing oil and gas exploration subsidies (2007).1

Senator McCain voted for oil drilling in ANWR in 2000 and against oil drilling in ANWR in 2002, promising new images of flip-flops in coming days. He voted against terminating CAFE standards within 15 months (2002), for targeting 100,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2010 (2003), against the Bush administration’s energy policy (2003), for banning drilling in ANWR (2005), and against reducing oil usage by 40% by 2025 (2005). His positions on energy policy are more pro-environmental than President Bush but less than his Democratic opponents.1

On emission standards, the US Chamber of Commerce observes that Clinton has said as President, she would increase fleetwide fuel economy standards to 55 miles a gallon by 2030 with funds to help automakers modernize; Obama would double fleetwide fuel economy standards within 18 years with tax credits and loan guarantees to help automakers modernize and McCain supports raising fuel economy standards but has not specified by how much.2

The Campaign for America’s Future, a strategy center for the progressive movement that advocates more sustainable energy policies, has given Senators Obama and Clinton a rating of 100% and Senator McCain a rating of 17%.

Regulating the drug industry

Another key decision facing the next president is how to shape the nation’s approach to regulation of the drug industry. In the past eight years, the FDA’s reputation and credibility have declined sharply, both because of under-funding and close ties to the industries it regulates.

Senator Clinton has advocated that the FDA should provide more oversight over pharmaceutical companies’ financial relationships with providers. There is no mention of direct-to-consumer advertising or data marketing practices, but seems to focus solely on the relationship with prescribers. Senator Obama has said that some drug manufacturers are explicitly paying generic drug makers not to enter the market so they can preserve their monopolies and keep charging Americans exorbitant prices for brand name products. He has said his health care plan will work to ensure that market power does not lead to higher prices for consumers. In the Iowa primary, McCain said that if there are ways to bring greater competition to our drug markets by safe re-importation of drugs, by faster introduction of generic drugs, or by any other means we should do so….8

A pro-drug industry website that monitors the FDA noted that Clinton, McCain and Obama all favor drug importation. That means that it is inevitable that a president who favors importation will be in the White House with a Democratic House and Senate that will be more receptive to the concept than at any time prior.8

Money in politics

It is likely that the influence of money on politics will be a topic for discussion in the 2008 general election, yet the heavy reliance of all candidates on corporate money (see Corporations, Health and the 2008 Presidential Elections, Part 1, Following the Money) makes it difficult to imagine any pf the candidates supporting substantial reforms.

While McCain has been a strong supporter of limiting the influence of money in politics—he once said his support for McCain-Feingold bill was an issue of transcendent importance to him—he will have a hard time reconciling this commitment with his promise to appoint Supreme Court justices like Scalia and Thomas—consistent supporters of Big Business and opponents of campaign finance reform. A recent story in Business Week asked, Is John McCain Good for Business?, observing that McCain has crusaded against the influence of corporate lobbyists, yet has more K Street fixers raising money for his campaign than any other Presidential candidate.9 The recent New York Times and Washington Post stories on his relationship with a lobbyist emphasize his vulnerability on this issue. In the 2007 primary cycle, 78% of McCain’s contributions campaign from corporate funds. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton appeared on the cover of Fortune magazine as Big Business’s candidate; and last Spring Obama was the top recipient of Wall Street contributions, suggesting that no matter who wins, business will have ready access to the next President.

In future articles in this series, Corporations and Health Watch will examine the candidates’ positions on free trade, the food industry and on FDA reform.

References

1. Campaign Issues 2008.
2. Hilary Clinton. Solutions for America. Economic Blueprint. Hillary Clinton’s Economic Blueprint for the 21st Century
3. US hamber of Commerce. Senate Vote Scorecard, 2006.
4. Quoted in Calmes J, Frangos A. “McCain’s Breaks with GOP left scars but could increase his “electability”.” Wall Street Journal. February 7, 2008, p A1 and A16.
5. Corporations and Health Watch. Corporations, Health and the 2008 Presidential Elections Following the Money.
6. Rutenberg R, Thompson MW, Kirkpatrick D, Laboton S. “For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk.” New York Times. February 21, 2008, p. A1.
7. Open Secrets.
8. Eye on the FDA. Where the Candidates Stand Parts 1-8.
9. Javers E. Is John McCain good for business? Business week. February 6, 2008.

 

View CHW’s coverage on Corporations, Health and the 2008 Presidential Race:

Part 1: Following the Money
Part 2: Clinton, Obama and McCain on the Role of Corporations Part 3: Clinton, McCain, Obama and the Food Industry