We’ve just seen the worst that Washington has to offer with the “cromnibus” government spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last night.
Instead of Congress passing a clean funding bill along lines that were previously agreed to and had bipartisan acceptance, Big Business exercised its insider influence and took advantage of an artificially rushed and secretive process to cut deals to enhance the political influence of the super-rich, put taxpayers on the hook – again – for Wall Street recklessness and make our roads less safe.
Moneyed interests maneuvered to eviscerate campaign spending rules, so that a super-rich couple may now contribute up to $3 million to a national political party in a single (two-year) election cycle. It’s a certainty that this move will be followed up by calls to “level the playing field” and permit the same monstrous contributions to candidates and political committees.
Wall Street called on its friends to include a Citigroup-drafted provision that would roll back a key Dodd-Frank measure that was designed to prevent Big Banks from using taxpayer-insured money to bet in the derivatives markets. With the top four banks responsible for 93 percent of derivatives activities in the United States, there is zero question about which entities will benefit. Nor who will pay; when the next financial crisis comes – as it will, as certainly as the calendar changes – taxpayers will be forced to pay for Wall Street gambling on derivatives.
At the behest of the trucking industry, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins included in the spending bill a provision to override rules to reduce truck driver fatigue, which risks the lives of truckers and other drivers.
These are only some of the known giveaways in the spending bill. It will probably take many weeks, or longer, before all of the industry deals are discovered.
As serious and troubling as are these measures, there is reason to fear worse is to come. Even though it opposed many of these harmful provisions, the White House pushed for approval of the overall spending deal, which had to overcome substantial opposition from members of Congress in both parties. If this is the kind of “bipartisanship” we’re going to see in the coming two years, the country is facing dire prospects indeed.
The good news is that, while the White House and Republican leadership were able to corral enough votes this time, they had to resort to desperation tactics. Many lawmakers rejected the deal-making, denounced the giveaways and fought for principle. Public Citizen wants especially to thank Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Financial Services Ranking Member Maxine Waters, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, and Senators Elizabeth Warren, David Vitter and Sherrod Brown for fighting so hard, especially to eliminate the Wall Street bailout provision from the bill. Minority Leader Pelosi’s opposition to the White House effort to ram through the deal was especially courageous. Thanks to the fight this time, more lawmakers will be with them next time.
This spending bill is exactly the kind of cronyism and insider deal-making that has the public so disgusted and disenchanted with Washington. The public’s revulsion wasn’t enough this time, but it will grow. It will grow as more details of this deal become more widely known, and as corporate insiders try to cut the next deal. Corporations are betting that revulsion leads to apathy and hopelessness, and that they will be able to speed through a laundry list of giveaways, rollbacks, tax breaks and more. At Public Citizen, we’re going to do everything possible to make sure that revulsion leads to revolt and an end to deals designed to reward giant contributors, and circumvent and subvert the public will.
Robert Weissman is the President of Public Citizen