Today, I am introducing the Public Empowerment Act of 1997, a package containing eight pieces of legislation. Together, these provisions, at very modest cost, can help revitalize our democracy and our economy by restoring the ability of ordinary citizens to influence the decisions of Government and the actions of powerful business corporations.
Our Government — the Congress, the President and Executive Branch, and the independent federal agencies — has, again and again, allowed giant corporations and interest groups and their legions of lawyers and lobbyists to dominate the policy agenda. Our Government has, again and again, given away public resources to corporations, some of them multinational giants run from abroad, without asking for reasonable compensation. What we have is a government of the power brokers, by the power brokers, and for the power brokers. And many, many important decisions that affect our health and welfare and the future of our nation are not made by government at all, but are reserved to corporate CEOs with little accountability to the public or even to their own shareholders.
The people have been left out of the deal. Many citizens feel powerless and alienated from government and from our economic power structure.
President Clinton sometimes quotes President Andrew Jackson’s famous remark that the best cure for democracy’s ills is more democracy. The Public Empowerment Act is in that spirit. Our Nation’s problems, I would submit, arise in large measure from the lack of real democracy, from the sense of citizens that they have no control over our destiny, so why bother trying. So often we have revitalized our society by expanding the reaches of democracy — by abolishing slavery and the Jim Crow laws, by granting women the right to vote, by the spread of ballot initiatives in many states.
The situation of today cries out for still more democracy, for a shifting of some of the power in this Nation from the multinational corporations and their lawyers and lobbyists directly to the American people. Control of government, media, industrial capital, trade, technology, the environment, is dominated by a small elite with little feeling for the needs of ordinary people. When, for example, a bipartisan Congress can strongly support the modified GATT agreement
— modified to surrender our environmental standards and our labor rights protections in the name of global commerce — we know that the powers that be have lost touch with the genuine concerns of the Nation.
The Public Empowerment Act of 1997 includes some modest steps in the direction of restoring the balance and giving citizens a more meaningful role in decisions that affect our political system and our economic system.
The eight components of the Public Empowerment Act are, in essence, trimtabs. A trimtab is a small rudder used to turn a big ship. In this context, I use trimtab to mean a modest, low-cost legislative proposal, carefully targeted at a point of leverage in our massive Government. If we find the right points and give them a nudge, major, positive results can follow.