US: WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC CONFERENCE

Publisher Name: 
Center for Responsive Politics


During his campaign for reelection, President Bush outlined in

stump speech after stump speech his top domestic priorities for

a second term: tax reform, partial privatization of Social

Security and limits on damages awarded in malpractice suits.



After more than a month of news dominated by the reshuffling of

the president's cabinet, the White House resumed its sales pitch

to voters this morning with the start of a two-day economic

conference in downtown Washington.



The event features an eclectic lineup of experts from corporate

America, academia, government and policy organizations. Their

job is to attract popular support for the president's domestic

programs, which all sides agree will require at least some

Democratic support to win congressional approval.



Among the panelists are representatives of industries and

interest groups that contributed heavily to Republicans for the

2004 elections and have an enormous financial stake in seeing

Bush's proposals become law.



Of the 35 participants announced by the White House last week,

17 have contributed more than $200 to one or more federal

candidates, PACs or party committees during the current election

cycle. Together they have given nearly $195,000 to Republicans

-- including $40,000 to the Bush campaign -- and just over

$23,000 to Democrats.



The employees and PACs of their respective organizations have

contributed more evenly -- a total of $5.6 million to

Republicans and $7.1 million to Democrats. But several of the

industries they represent -- including securities and investment

firms, banks and retail stores -- favor the GOP with their

giving and strongly supported Bush in the presidential race.

These interests are hoping for more than a slot on a conference

panel. They are expecting a seat at the table when the specifics

of Bush's economic proposals are hammered out behind the scenes.



Below are brief profiles of some of the issues being discussed

at the conference and the interests trying to influence the

debate.



TAX REFORM



The panel titled "Tax and Regulatory Burdens" will examine the

negative effects of taxes and regulations on the economy. Bush

campaigned on simplifying the tax code, itself an enormously

complex task, and lowering taxes on savings and investment. He

hasn't yet outlined specifics, but two items almost certainly

will be part of a White House plan: making Bush's prior tax cuts

permanent and modifying the alternative minimum tax, which

ensures that even wealthy people who take advantage of tax

breaks pay some taxes.



Both proposals are supported by a broad array of business

groups. Chief among them is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which

has contributed more than $152,000 in individual and PAC

donations in the current election cycle, 79 percent to

Republicans. The group's total budget for the 2004 elections was

reported to approach $40 million. The Chamber spent more than

$20.1 million on lobbying in the first half of this year.



The White House put Tom Sullivan, the Small Business

Administration's chief counsel for advocacy, on the panel.

Sullivan is a former executive at the National Federation of

Independent Business, which has contributed more than $701,000

in individual and PAC contributions during the current election

cycle 98 percent to Republicans. The group also sent out

millions of postcards, emails and faxes to help get out the vote

this year. NFIB spent $1.5 million on lobbying in the first half

of the year.



SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM



During the presidential campaign, Bush and John Kerry tangled

over how to keep the Social Security system solvent for future

generations. Bush wants to allow individuals to invest part of

their payroll taxes in private investment accounts, a plan that

opponents charge would reap huge profits for most of the

securities industry ($70.6 million in individual and PAC

contributions during the current cycle, 52 percent to

Republicans). Bush raised more than twice as much money as Kerry

from the industry during the presidential campaign.



Securities and investment firms deny that partial privatization

of Social Security, as the president's policy is described,

would have much of an impact on their bottom line. They will be

represented on the panel titled "Financial Challenges for Today

and Tomorrow" by Liz Ann Sonders of Charles Schwab ($300,000, 62

percent to Republicans).



Securities giant UBS Americas ($2.4 million, 61 percent to

Republicans), which could have a major stake in the outcome of

the Social Security debate, was represented by Mary Farrell,

managing director and chief investment strategist of subsidiary

UBS Wealth Management, in the day's first session on the state

of the economy.



TORT REFORM



Republicans for years have been pushing for tort reform, and

they may finally get their wish after gaining seats in the House

and Senate in the November elections. Bush has indicated he

wants to start by limiting damages in medical malpractice suits,

which he says have contributed to the skyrocketing costs of

healthcare.



Health professionals ($59.6 million, 63 percent to Republicans)

and hospitals ($13.5 million, 53 percent to Republicans), led by

the American Medical Association and the American Hospital

Association, are behind the president. The AMA has contributed

more than $2.1 million in individual and PAC contributions in

the current election cycle, 77 percent to Republicans. The AHA

has contributed $1.7 million, 56 percent to Republicans.



Also on the tort reform agenda is class action reform, a

priority of virtually the entire corporate community. Home

Depot, which is being represented by CEO Bob Nardelli on the

panel titled "The High Costs of Lawsuit Abuse," has made tort

reform one of its legislative priorities. The company has given

$1 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal

Reform, reports National Journal. Home Depot's employees and PAC

have contributed more than $861,000 in the current election

cycle, 93 percent to Republicans.



The high tech industry also strongly supports class action

reform. Kevin Rollins, CEO of computer maker Dell ($409,000, 79

percent to Republicans), was part of the opening session on the

state of the economy.



AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE



Bush is pushing a number of proposals designed to make

healthcare more affordable. One of his top priorities in this

area is the expansion of health savings accounts (HSAs), which

allow individuals to make tax-free contributions that they can

later use for medical expenses.



Health insurers and HMOs ($6.3 million, 60 percent to

Republicans) strongly supported the creation of HSAs in the

Medicare prescription drug bill that passed in 2003. America's

Health Insurance Plans, the leading trade group for health

insurers, is working to ensure that changes in the

administration of HSAs give health insurers the flexibility they

need. The group's PAC has contributed $185,000 to federal

candidates in the current election cycle, 71 percent to

Republicans.



AHIP is undoubtedly familiar with Gail Wilensky, a panelist in

the session titled "Making Healthcare More Affordable." Wilensky

served under Bush's father as administrator of the Health Care

Financing Administration, which handles Medicare, and as an

advisor on health and welfare issues. Now a senior fellow at

Project Hope, she was one of Bush's spokespeople on Medicare

reform during this year's presidential campaign.

AMP Section Name:Money & Politics