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Horner Op-Ed in The Washington Times<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
That didn't take long. Word has it that congressional offices are creating lists of lobbyists and corporations who have come knocking to use the Sept. 11 tragedies to cash in for their own narrow benefit.Such profiteering is troubling, of course, and in this case achieves the amazing feat of setting a new low in the Washington world of brazen corporate welfare. Naturally, some industries - airlines, for example - were legitimately harmed by the acts of war on Sept. 11 and the government's necessary actions taken in response.Unfortunately, it seems that dozens of other special interests not so directly impacted are fighting for space on the bailout bandwagon, to take advantage of the tragedy. What started as a limited bailout for one industry threatens to become a feeding frenzy that could cost taxpayers billions.It is time to shine the spotlight on these corporate ambulance chasers. It's not enough for congressional staffers to keep lists; the offending corporations need a healthy spray of sunshine disinfectant to shame them into backing off of an incredibly offensive grab for dollars or special treatment.It is time for a "Corporate Ambulance Chaser" award similar to the "Golden Fleece" prize made so famous by Sen. William Proxmire. Allow me to name the first nominee that, sadly, is an American icon: Boeing Corp.Boeing looks to be petitioning the government for relief of problems that began well before the terrorist attack, yet seemingly taking advantage of the tragedy. On Sept. 5, according to Reuters, the company's chairman said he predicted a downturn in aircraft production. This is simply the latest update in a long-running saga. For years Europe's Airbus has been cleaning Boeing's clock, gaining market share and winning what traditionally would have been Boeing customers, worldwide.Boeing's numbers speak for themselves. By the end of August, Boeing had only booked net orders for 202 airplanes vs. 377 for the same period last year, while Airbus had already announced 300 new orders by mid-July. According to Forbes magazine, Airbus announced 155 new orders alone at June's Paris Air Show, while Boeing announced only three. Before the Sept. 11 attacks, market analyst SG Cowan predicted a significant drop in Boeing's orders unless it turned its business around.Boeing's troubles clearly are not drawn from the heinous attacks on America, nor is Boeing at death's door. It admits to hoping it can fill orders for more than 1,000 planes this year and next, and it has branched out into the satellite and military businesses quite nicely. The company is No. 1 in tactical aircraft, No. 1 in airlift, and No. 1 in helicopters, and the current emphasis on defense programs can only help its bottom line.Yet, in the wake of the Sept 11 attack, and upon hearing several airlines announce major layoffs due to a reduced number of flights, Boeing steps forward with its own announcement of up to 30,000 layoffs. The instructive pre-September sales figures notwithstanding, Boeing leads its Sept. 18 press release with the explanation, "[gi]ven the impacts of the horrific attacks of Sept. 11 . . . "On behalf of Boeing, policymakers have agitated for more Boeing products in upcoming Pentagon appropriation bills, and publicly demanded that an upcoming defense contract (for the Joint Strike Fighter) be split in case Boeing loses the bid. Why this anticipatory concession that they won't win that competition? Moreover, why have a competition in the first place?Boeing's circumstance had nothing to do with Sept. 11, press release intimations notwithstanding. Speaking of press strategies, consider the following dichotomy. On Oct. 3, The Washington Times reported that Boeing signed an agreement with China for delivery of 30 more commercial aircraft, a deal which "was scheduled to be announced weeks ago, but was postponed because of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." The announced layoffs, in contrast, hardly appear similarly delayed but reek if anything of being curiously premature.Indeed, on the very same day Boeing announced its layoffs Boeing's press shop trumpeted huge anticipated potential in the Chinese market, a significant deal with which had already been reached but not announced. What interesting criteria there must be for discerning those announcements to stall, and those best released on the promise of possible bailout legislation.Boeing's behavior appears unmistakably opportunistic. If that is the case, it is reprehensible. It appears to be taking advantage of the current crisis to lay the groundwork for a big government handout, grabbing for every dollar it can regardless of there being no relation between their circumstance and America's tragedies. This also despite the fact that it continues to have a large backlog for commercial planes and its military business is doing quite well. Sometimes opportunity knocks, and sometimes it must be dragooned, apparently.Shame on Boeing for taking advantage of tragedy to enhance its subsidies, such market interference and the selfish manipulation of government policy they represent being odious even in the best of times. We should expect better behavior from an American icon, and we are sorely, sorely disappointed.Mr. Horner is an attorney and senior fellow at Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Copyright © 2001 The Washington Times