Barack Obama campaigned for president, says Tim Carney, as an advocate for big government, claiming that more federal regulation and spending will protect American consumers against the excesses of big business. But, Carney argues in Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses, the president's push for more intervention has actually favored big business and lobbying. Carney, lobbying editor and columnist at the Washington Examiner and award-winning author of The Big Ripoff, recently chatted with U.S. News about the surprising relationship between big government and big business and how Obama is helping the same special interests he says he's fighting. Excerpts:
What is Obamanomics?
Obamanomics is the use of big government—such as regulation, taxes, spending—in a way that ends up benefiting big business and the most entrenched special interests. Look at the healthcare regulations that are being debated on Capitol Hill. While Obama may package this as a crusade against the big, evil health industry, he has cut deals in the White House with the drug lobbyists.
Is it much different from Bushonomics?
If you were to define Bushonomics as his last year, I'd say that was the perfect preface to Obamanomics. Bush mostly tried to cut taxes and did not expand regulations, but Obama is a bigger believer in government than Bush—at least than Bush professed to be. Think of Bush's last few months with the bailouts of Wall Street and of Detroit. Put it on steroids, and then you've got Obamanomics.
So who wins in Obamanomics?
General Electric and Goldman Sachs are two of the biggest winners. General Electric has spent more on lobbying over the last decade than any other company. They're benefiting from Obama's policies on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, on federal funding for freight trains and high-speed passenger rails, and on global warming cap-and-trade regulation. There seems to be some sort of symbiosis between GE and the Obama administration. GE is both following Obama's lead and influencing policy.
You argue in your book that big business and big government actually work together.
Yes. The idea that big business and big government are rivals is what I call "the big myth." It's true about half the time, and the other half of the time, big business lobbies for and profits from big government. This is not new under Barack Obama, but Obama's the current practitioner, and I think he may be the most prolific practitioner of this sort of big business-big government collusion. When government is getting involved in an industry, whoever has the best lobbyists is more likely to win, and that's not going to be mom and pop.
You say that there has been "hypocrisy" in the Obama campaign and presidency.
Where I think it's most egregious is the difference between his rhetoric and what he's doing on healthcare, where he packages it as his enemies being funded by well-funded special interests, where he is literally cutting backroom deals with drug makers. The one particular incident where it's most acute, though, was probably in June when he signed the law regulating tobacco, where he said that he was signing this law despite the influence of Big Tobacco, but the bill had been supported by Philip Morris for years, and in fact, Philip Morris had helped write the bill, according to some media reports.
You mention Obama's backroom deals with drug companies. How is that affecting the healthcare debates in Congress?
Well, you see, some of the campaign pledges that Obama had made he has now dropped from his healthcare reform. He is not going to try to get Medicare to negotiate drug prices under Medicare Part D—that's the prescription drug benefit—and he's not going to try to get re-importation of drugs from Canada. These two could have been cost-cutting measures, but Obama abandoned them to get the drug industry on his side. Having the drug industry broadly on his side has helped him say, "Look, there's such broad agreement that even the drug makers agree that we need to do something."