Dave Helling

Dave Helling: Corporate wish-lists still dominate GOP agenda

Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal will send billions to private companies.
Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal will send billions to private companies. AP

President Donald Trump recently signed a bill repealing Obama-era information protections on the internet.

The debate over the bill was portrayed as a battle about privacy. It was that — some Republicans, including Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, voted against the bill on that issue.

But the bill was about something else, too: more money in the pockets of internet companies.

The modern Republican Party’s continued allegiance to corporations and their stockholders may not be readily apparent. Much of contemporary politics revolves around social and constitutional issues: abortion, gun rights, free speech, religious freedoms.

Yet for more than a century, the defining difference between Republicans and Democrats has been economic, not social. Republicans align with business, while Democrats align with labor and — broadly — consumers.

Trump has tried to scramble the equation, disguising his party’s pro-business approach. He has pushed for renegotiated trade agreements, for example, widely seen as a nod to blue-collar workers in low-income states. He has jawboned business executives to keep plants in the U.S. He has signed orders loosening pollution standards.

He has claimed his pro-business stance will create American jobs. But there’s no guarantee that will be the outcome. It’s equally likely the new rules and trade agreements will put money in the pockets of stockholders and owners, not their workers.

This pro-business approach isn’t limited to the Trump White House.

The defining political debate in Kansas over the past decade was the huge tax break given to 330,000 small business owners in 2013.

Kansas job growth has been mediocre since businesses got the tax break. The reason seems obvious: Many Kansas business owners have kept the money for themselves.

Gov. Sam Brownback repeatedly says he wants to make Kansas a place to “grow a business.” He doesn’t say why that’s more important than “healing the sick” or “feeding the poor” or “teaching the students.”

But the pro-business push of the modern GOP is most obvious in Missouri. So far this session, lawmakers have focused like a laser beam on the wish list of any chamber of commerce: right-to-work legislation, low minimum wages, elimination of prevailing wages, even lawsuit reform that makes it harder for workers and consumers to sue for wrongdoing.

Missouri Republicans and Gov. Eric Greitens insist the new laws will unleash businesses to hire more workers and expand their operations. They’re betting the state’s workers see it that way, too.

Again, though, the looser rules aren’t legally linked with job creation. Corporations and stockholders are perfectly free to pocket the money they save from pro-business legislation or invest the cash in other states or overseas.

In Washington? Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal will send billions to private companies. Tax reform will likely mean lower levies for businesses, not people. A revived Obamacare repeal plan will cuts costs for insurance companies.

For decades, the GOP has been more comfortable in the boardroom, while Democrats have found support on the factory floor. For all the pushing and shoving in contemporary politics, that reality hasn’t changed.