Back in April of this year I wrote about the covert bailout that was buried in the Obamacare bill which gives $5 billion of taxpayer money to unions, states (for public employees) and corporations for health care coverage for retirees aged between 55 and 64. The program is called the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program or ERRP. The UAW is the largest single beneficiary, receiving over 200 million dollars. General Motors also gets a piece of the pork with about a 20 million dollar cut. A recent report by the Washington Examiner identifies early retirees (many of whom are being paid over $100,000 a year in pension payments) of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) as the other top recipient of about 200 million dollars.
Thehill.com now reports that Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is criticizing the program that has given away about $3 billion to date. The piece quotes Enzi as saying, “Rather than rewarding politically connected constituencies, the remaining funds in the insurance program for early retirees should be used to assist employers with providing insurance coverage.” Enzi goes on to say, “If that proves impossible, the funds should be returned to the Treasury to reduce the federal deficit.” It is doubtful that any money will be returned since the Health and Human Services Department has stated that applications have been cut off due to all of the money being allocated and funds are expected to run out in 2012.
It might be too late to save taxpayers the $5 billion giveaway that likely is going to favored political classes, but congress should denounce the program and be more vigilant against such pork programs attached to bills like Obamacare. In addition, a close eye should be kept on taxpayer funds that may go to help GM (as well as political friends at the UAW) as the 2012 presidential election nears given the fact that President Obama has staked so much on the company’s success. Generous tax credits and financing from government owned Ally Financial are just a couple of ways GM has received covert aid. Government fleet orders of GM vehicles, particularly the controversial Chevy Volt, should be monitored by watchdogs that represent taxpayers’ interests. It is difficult to track these numbers, but GM revealed that government fleet orders were up 26% back in September and both GM and the Obama Administration have much credibility on the line with evasive sales goals for the Volt.
America’s debt problem has grown to the point where we can no longer afford to throw billions of dollars on pork projects, crony capitalism, political payback and wasteful green initiatives. Democrats and Republicans alike should be held to a higher standard. It is time to tighten the purse strings, whether it is regarding programs like ERRP, government loans to nonviable crony green businesses like Solyndra or tax subsidies for $100,000 cars built in Finland by politically connected Fisker. Congress and the Senate need to display the self-control it has been lacking regarding the profligate spending of money that does not belong to them.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.