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Activists demonstrate against JPMorgan Chase's opposition to the Build Back Better Act on September 28, 2021 in New York City. (Photo: People's Action)

New Report Exposes Corporate Scheme to Derail Biden Agenda and 'Upend Democracy'

"Congress needs to do its job, fight these bullies, and pass a budget package for the people."

Kenny Stancil

Corporations threatened by the prospect of paying a slightly higher tax rate and exercising a little less power over working people are spending millions to sabotage a far-reaching Democratic reconciliation bill that would expand the social safety net and bolster climate action.

"We pulled the curtain back on corporate America to find they were trying to put Congress in a headlock."
—Sondra Youdelman, People's Action

That's according to Behind the Curtain: The Corporate Plot to Upend Democracy, a new report released Wednesday by People's Action, a nationwide network of groups organizing for social justice, and Dēmos, a progressive think tank.

"While everyday people are calling on Congress to put people first and safeguard their basic rights to housing, healthcare, and a clean environment, corporations are prioritizing profits and working hard to preserve an inequitable status quo," Dēmos senior policy analyst Daniella Zessoules said in a statement. "As we've witnessed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, this greed hits Black, brown, and low-income people hardest."

The report exposes how corporations are trying to ensure that the United States' wealthiest and most powerful entities "can reap obscene profits year after year at our expense" and "keep our elected officials from taking action to restore communities."

Just 20 corporations or industry groups—keen to preserve nearly $2.3 trillion in tax cuts the GOP passed in 2017 and to make permanent billionaires' $1.8 trillion pandemic windfall—have spent more than $201 million in lobbying so far this year, the report finds. Much of that corporate cash has been aimed at derailing progressive provisions in the popular and potentially historic tax reform and spending package that would invest up to $3.5 trillion over a decade to strengthen the welfare state and decarbonize the economy.

Although the reconciliation bill encapsulates the agenda demanded by tens of millions of voters who elected President Joe Biden and put Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, an ongoing "power grab"—led by several corporations and trade associations that represent them, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Realtors Asscoaition, and supported by aligned right-wing lawmakers—has put its passage in jeopardy, the report notes.

"We pulled the curtain back on corporate America to find they were trying to put Congress in a headlock," People's Action campaign director Sondra Youdelman said in a statement. "Now, Congress needs to do its job, fight these bullies, and pass a budget package for the people."

While "corporate influence to stop progressive change is nothing new," the report states, "the concentration of wealth and monopoly powers in recent years has added fuel to the flame."

"Corporate America wants to keep profits high and taxes low forever," adds the report. "They simply don't want to pay their fair share. That's why they're throwing millions of dollars into lobbying, campaigns, and political advertising to divide us and get legislators to back their agenda of permanent inequality."

The report highlights anti-democratic corporate spending and opposition to the Build Back Better Act's proposed reforms in the following six key issue areas, all of which are backed by a majority in the U.S.: increasing taxes on corporations and the ultra-rich, lowering drug prices, providing affordable healthcare, investing in public and affordable housing, tackling climate change, and providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people.

For each issue area, the report explains measures included in the reconciliation package, shows polling results indicating popular support for the proposed investments and policies, and details what corporations are doing to obstruct the bill's passage.

According to the report:

  • Over two-thirds of voters support raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations;
  • Nearly 90% of adults want the government to negotiate lower drug prices;
  • A majority of voters want the federal government to reduce healthcare costs and expand coverage;
  • A majority of voters want the federal government to increase the supply of nonprofit and publicly owned homes;
  • Two-thirds of adults think the federal government is not doing enough to mitigate the climate crisis; and
  • Almost 70% of voters support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

And yet—even though the Build Back Better Act would take steps toward meeting the needs of millions of Americans who are facing rampant tax injustices, the world's highest prescription drug prices, skyrocketing healthcare costs and lack of insurance, evictions and foreclosures, extreme weather disasters, or the threat of deportation—corporations have vehemently fought against the reconciliation bill.

Leading offenders include Anthem, JPMorgan Chase, FedEx, Walmart, Exxon, Amazon, Pfizer, and Blue Cross Blue Shield, the report finds. Big Pharma and private health insurance companies have spent $171 million so far in 2021 on lobbying, the most of any industry.

As the report notes:

Rich corporations are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the American people from getting what they want: a government that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few. Their massive use of corporate power to frustrate the will of the people on an issue-by-issue basis is part of a larger anti-democracy effort backed by corporate America.

As corporations seek to undermine the Biden plan's much-needed tax provisions, historic investments in drug pricing reform, healthcare, housing, climate, and immigration reform, they are also attacking our freedom to vote. Many of the same companies combating elements of the Build Back Better proposal are also bankrolling voter suppression legislation.

"Now we know who the real villains are behind the curtain, who want to keep our communities from getting what we need and deserve," the report concludes. "Corporations and the wealthy few are undermining our democracy. They are lobbying hard to preserve an unequal status quo, using money to steer government rather than allow a real democracy to bring about what the people overwhelmingly want—a country that works for all of us."

The report's publication coincides with a National Day of Action during which People's Action members plan to hold rallies denouncing opponents of the Build Back Better Act for undermining the well-being of the nation's economy and democracy.

Following Tuesday's action against JPMorgan in New York, demonstrations against these organizations are planned for Wednesday:

  • Greater Des Moines Partnership in Iowa;
  • FedEx in West Virginia;
  • Anthem in Indiana;
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield Anthem in New Hampshire;
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield in Illinois;
  • Ajax Pavement Industries: Flint Asphalt Plant in Michigan;
  • Amazon in Colorado;
  • National Realtors Association in Delaware and New York; and
  • PhRMA in Idaho.

"We can't call the U.S. the greatest democracy in the world if our legislators allow a handful of corporations to derail the critical and wildly popular provisions in the Build Back Better package," Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, said in a statement (pdf).

"These companies are lining politicians' pockets in hopes of securing a future of extreme inequality and climate catastrophe," Tyson added. "It's time for lawmakers to grow spines and show us who they work for: the people, not massive corporations."


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