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Mayor’s Corner: Endless greed is never enough for those with the most!

By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.

Mayor of Lewiston

That’s right: endless greed is never enough for those with the most. The bottom line of profit is what prevails in the minds of those who continually strive to increase their corporate and personal gain. It usually comes at a price for those who may still be remaining in the middle class (if there is such an animal any longer) and those who are elderly and on fixed incomes.

We need only look at the recent passage of the Republican-led U.S. House of Representative budget that would privatize Medicare by turning it into a voucher system. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in the first year of the voucher program, out-of-pocket expenses for seniors would double under the Republican plan to more than 12,500 annually. For seniors on a fixed income, a doubling of out-of-pocket expenses is simply unaffordable, particularly when the average Social Security benefit is only $14,000 per year.

Under the Republican plan, nearly four million seniors will be forced to pay $2.2 billion more for prescription drugs in 2012. This is according to the CBO.

Again, under the Republican plan, according to the U.S. Health & Human Services (HHS), at least one million seniors and people with disabilities will pay over $110 million more for their annual wellness visits in 2012. According to HHS, the Republican plan will require that seniors pay deductibles, co-insurance and co-payments for many preventive services currently covered by Medicare, including cancer screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, as well as annual wellness visits. Seniors could be forced to pay for many other health services that Medicare currently covers free of charge to the patient, including mammograms; colorectal, cervical and prostate cancer screening; cholesterol and other cardiovascular screenings; diabetes screening and flu shots.

Here in Maine, this past week Republican Governor Paul LePage signed into law a bill passed by a Republican-led Legislature a health insurance overhaul bill. Under the bill younger folks will pay less, as they are less likely to become ill, and seniors will pay more because they are more likely to become ill and in need of health care services.

Regardless of whether seniors are able to afford the additional costs, the bottom line is the insurance companies want to make more profit. They lobbied in support of the bill. In other words, corporate greed is what dictates.

LePage continually asserts that it’s “People before Politics.” What people is he talking about? It certainly isn’t blue-collar workers, those of late middle age or seniors.

How does it feel paying $4 a gallon for gas, especially if you are lucky enough to have a job and have to travel many miles to get to work? I’m hearing now from some who live in the outlying areas of Androscoggin County that they are considering moving back into Lewiston or Auburn as gas prices are such that it is unaffordable to simply come into the service centers for their employment.

In a Los Angeles Times article by Richard Simon, dated May 18, 2011: “Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a Democratic effort to scale back oil industry breaks, underscoring the difficulty of getting Congress to agree to any significant measurers aimed at bringing down gas prices. Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich of Alaska and Ben Nelson of Nebraska were the Democrats who cast ‘no’ votes. Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe were the only Republicans to vote to take up the measure.”

Certainly, Senators Snowe and Collins know that Mainers cannot afford to pay these high gasoline prices in this a rural state where many workers have to travel many miles in order to earn a living. I applaud Snowe and Collins for standing up to their Republican colleagues in support of us here in Maine.

In the article, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) is quoted: “How long do you have to give corporate welfare to oil companies?” Those who are continually complaining about welfare costs for those who are poor and needy, take notice: this is exactly corporate welfare for the rich oil companies who are robbing your pocketbook. The problem is you never see it until they raise prices for a while and when the nation begins to complain, they scale back a bit to keep us quiet. In the interim, they get big tax breaks that we don’t even see.

The Obama Administration supported the “Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act.” According to the Los Angeles Times article: “The oil and gas industries receive $16 billion a year in federal subsidies, according to the watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense. The bill targeted about $2 billion a year in tax breaks to Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, ConocoPhillips and BP.”

The article goes on: “The push to scale back the tax breaks comes as 31% of those surveyed in a recent Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll blamed greed, speculation or a push for higher profits among oil companies for the recent gas price increases.”

Democratic Congressman Edward J. Markey, the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, released a report that showed that the Big Five Oil Companies approached $1 trillion (that’s trillion with a “T”) in profits, yet they still rely on 100-year-old subsidies to sell $100 a barrel oil.

Just in the first quarter of this year, these same oil companies reported a combined $38.1 billion in first-quarter profits. Only BP had a decline in earnings. Of course, BP was the one responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

When you earn $38 billion in profits in four months, why do you need federal subsidies? Yet the CEOs of these companies appeared on Capitol Hill to defend their subsidies. That, my friends, is corporate welfare, which is synonymous to greed—and lots of it!

According to the AARP Bulletin, General Electric made $5.3 billion in U.S. profits last year, yet it owed absolutely no federal tax for the same year. All allowable deductions were taken advantage of. The problem lies in the laws that provide these loopholes. The accusatory finger has to be pointed directly at those who pass such laws with the loopholes, and that is the U.S. Congress. Is that the corporate reward for campaign contributions?

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is quoted: “Instead of throwing children off of Head Start or cutting back on community health centers, maybe we want to ask Exxon Mobil to actually pay taxes rather than get a refund.”

Some of us might see someone in a grocery store buy clear lobster meat with food stamps and say “Oh, how terrible.” That is because you see it in the grocery store line.

Corporate greed or corporate welfare is that which we don’t see, as it is worked behind the scenes by the many lobbyist they employ and buy off the votes on their behalf with hefty campaign contributions.

Who is there fighting for the “little guy?” No one; for you see it takes money to make money!

In the meantime we will continue to demonize the less fortunate on welfare while the corporate giants continue to feed at the trough and without objection.

See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.

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