Congress and Cocaine: Do They Have More in Common Than We Think?

What if there was a really smart, knowledgeable, innovative guy who had dreams of curing cancer or writing a bestselling novel or recording an acclaimed album, but couldn't do any of the above because of a crippling cocaine addiction? Similarly, Congress' deadly addiction to corporate cash is the main reason Washington is unable to solve the myriad problems affecting our economy, environment and politics. If only we could help Congress kick the habit, our government could work for us again.

There's a reason that the financial reform bill Congress passed in 2010 didn't have any meaningful regulation of the risky speculative trading that crashed the economy in 2008. It's the same reason the only health care reform Congress managed to pass was essentially a bailout of the private health insurance industry with no public option. And it's the same reason the only deficit reduction Congress is considering comes from extracting a pound of flesh from Social Security and Medicare, rather than closing corporate tax loopholes that cost us billions a year, or ending the billions in free handouts for oil companies that are already turning record profits -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the single most powerful lobby for multinational corporations in Washington. Unlike local and county chambers of commerce, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce isn't the voice of the mom-and-pop hardware stores and bed-and-breakfasts on main street we all love and patronize. It's the voice of Bank of America, ExxonMobil, Walmart, and all the other corporations that have millions to spend on lobbyists and campaign donations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the vehicle for America's richest corporations to buy elections with unlimited, undisclosed political spending ($34.7 million in 2012 alone), and to hire lobbyists to rig the tax code with countless loopholes and gimmicks that allow them to pay negative federal tax rates while America's ordinary small business owners with no extra money to influence Congress have to pick up their slack.

In reality, the dues that America's small business owners pay to their local and county chambers of commerce end up as dues paid to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This is equivalent to the local grocery store owner paying for Walmart to lobby for weaker bribery laws, or the local credit union paying for Wells Fargo to have more options to offshore billions in profits. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a vacuum operated by billion-dollar corporations to siphon what little money local small business owners still have left to further dominate our economy and political process.

Whether it's inaction on addressing the threat of climate change that's decimated the Northeast twice in fve months, the inability to address the corrupting influence of money in politics, or the fact that congressional incumbents almost always get reelected despite Congress's growing unpopularity with the public, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their bottomless war chest are to blame. But with the kickoff of the Shut The Chamber campaign, 2013 will be the year that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's influence in Washington starts to wane. All it takes is loyal customers fed up with a deadbeat Congress to inform the owners of their favorite local businesses as to where their dues are really going. Then those local business owners just have to band together and petition their local and county chambers of commerce to divest from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. After a year or two of organizing, the U.S. Chamber will only have a fraction of the funds they used to have for campaign contributions and lobbyists, and congress will only have we, the people to answer to. It's up to us - let's get to work.

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