The Mickey Mouse Bailout Act

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In yet another victory for corporatism over the free market and the American taxpayer, the Senate is expected to pass the Tourism Promotion Act of 2009 later today. The bill, a top priority of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), would create a new government-run entity to promote international travel funded by a $10 per person tax on visitors coming to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The Washington Post had an eye opening profile of the lobbying behind the bill last year:

The explosion in the size of K Street, the locus of the lobbying industry, is an extension of the growth and reach of government. The ballooning federal budget has its tentacles in every aspect of American life and commerce. No serious industry or interest can function without monitoring, and at least trying to manipulate, Washington’s decision makers.

So, in the fall of 2005 [Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Jay] Rasulo assembled a team of people to make a serious assault on Washington. They included Disney executive Leslie Goodman, a former spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee; lobbyist Mitchell Rose, a former aide to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska); and Rob Gluck, a young but widely traveled former GOP political operative who now worked for Disney as Rasulo’s top adviser on public policy issues.

It is widely accepted at Disney — if not empirically proved — that one of every 15 visitors to the United States ends up at a Disney park. Leveraging the power of the federal government to bring more tourists from overseas, therefore, would wind up filling the pockets of the Mouse. … Rasulo would not say so publicly, but he told colleagues privately that his Ask would be for at least $200 million a year in advertising funds — four times what the Commerce Department had previously been directed to spend.

Thanks largely to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Disney’s fleecing of the American taxpayer was prevented in 2007. But now with corporatist friendly politicians controlling the White House, the Senate, and the House, the Mickey Mosue bailout is predicted to cruise to victory. Just in case a taxpayer funded government-run advertising campaign doesn’t strike you as inherently absurd, Heritage fellow Jena Baker McNeill outlined the case against earlier this year:

  • It is the wrong kind of business for government. While the bill is touted as a public-private partnership, in reality it is more government and not enough private sector. The bill promotes the kind of excessive government that leads to bureaucracy and inefficiencies–two results that could kill any of the benefits associated with such a corporation. Furthermore, advocates insist that the private sector will have to help foot the bill for the corporation. But in reality, these “assessments,” as they are called, have no teeth–the government has little power to force the private sector to pay the assessments–meaning the corporation will require more government dollars or more taxes on visitors to survive in the future.
  • It sends the wrong message. The new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) was created as a security device. Therefore, tacking on fees for all sorts of things sends a message to America’s allies that this nation does not take its VWP relationships seriously. While the amount is only $10 now, one can easily envision a scenario where this amount increases until it is no longer efficient to travel through the VWP–essentially killing the program.
  • It does not make sense. Taxing visitors as a means of encouraging visitors to come to the U.S. is simply illogical. Promoting tourism should mean that Washington takes away every impediment to travel while still keeping Americans safe, not increasing the penalties and burdens of travel.

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