Support the news

Democrats Cave On Deeply Flawed Spending Bill

Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a member of the Senate Banking Committee, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., left, ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, express their outrage to reporters that a huge, $1.1 trillion spending bill, passed by the Republican-controlled House yesterday, contains changes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that regulates complex financial instruments known as derivatives. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a member of the Senate Banking Committee, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., left, ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, express their outrage to reporters that a huge, $1.1 trillion spending bill, passed by the Republican-controlled House yesterday, contains changes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that regulates complex financial instruments known as derivatives. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Caving is not compromising. House Democrats, led by a defeatist, lame duck president, caved last night when they endorsed a deeply flawed $1.014 trillion spending bill in a dubious show of bipartisanship.

It was not obstructionist of dissenters to try to block passage of a 1,603-page bill, crafted behind closed doors, which contained major policy changes rolling back hard-won restrictions on Wall Street speculation and political campaign contributions.

Forgive the dismay of those of us who have marginally higher expectations of the People’s House than docile acquiescence to what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rightly called blackmail.

Proponents convinced just enough of their Democratic colleagues to win a 219-206 House vote, ignoring regressive riders in a bill that it is a fair bet few members had actually read in its entirety. (Language allowing individuals to triple their contributions to national political parties in presidential elections appeared on page 1,599, The Washington Post noted.)

Even the usually clear-eyed Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, called the deal she helped craft a “monumental achievement,” simply because it averted yet another government shutdown.

Forgive the dismay of those of us who have marginally higher expectations of the People’s House than docile acquiescence to what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rightly called blackmail.

It was Pelosi, not Obama, who represented the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party last night, taking to the House floor to urge her colleagues to reject a bill packed with major policy shifts that have never been subjected to full and open public debate. For his part, the congenitally lethargic president finally roused himself to lobby Congress, not on behalf of gun control, immigration reform or a dozen other of his alleged priorities, but on behalf of a bill that will reverse what little progress Democrats have made regulating avaricious bankers and reining in billionaire political contributors.

The argument for passing a deeply flawed bill to fund the federal government through next September was that Democrats will have even less leverage in January, when Republicans assume control of the Senate as well as the House. That is not realism. It’s resignation. If Democrats have already determined that their minority status means capitulating to the Republican majority, why not skip the 114th Congress entirely?

While expressing regret at the changes the bill makes to regulations governing campaign finance and banking practices, Obama argued that, by locking in a budget until the next fiscal year, this spending bill will be good for the economy. That is the same economy brought to its knees in 2008 by big bankers trading risky financial instruments and then relying on taxpayers for a bailout. That is the same spending bill which now returns the protection of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to those speculative financial trades, a protection removed in 2010 in an attempt to rein in the reckless banking practices that nearly wrecked the economy.

If Democrats have already determined that their minority status means capitulating to the Republican majority, why not skip the 114th Congress entirely?

Although the giveaway to the banks and the embrace of big money in politics sparked the most outrage among liberal Democrats, the bill contains other provisions that should incense anyone who expects at least the pretense of transparency in the crafting of public policy on Capitol Hill. Factory farms won an exemption from the Clean Air Act for certain farm ponds and irrigation ditches. The trucking industry blocked new federal rules requiring truckers to get adequate sleep each week. Opponents of marijuana overturned a ballot initiative in the District of Columbia that would have legalized it. Troubled pension plans won the right to cut the benefits of current retirees. The mining industry won the right to continue dumping coal waste.

Add to that deep cuts to the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and Obama’s Race to the Top educational initiative, and the GOP won a lot of victories in one sweeping bill.

The measure now goes to the Senate where it faces some vocal opposition but likely passage. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, at least, is asking the questions one might have expected to hear from the White House. “Who does Congress work for?” she asked Wednesday on the Senate floor. “Does it work for the millionaires, the billionaires, the giant companies with their armies of lobbyists and lawyers? Or does it work for all of us?”

Related:

Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
A Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for The Boston Globe, Eileen McNamara is the author of "Eunice, The Kennedy Who Changed the World," to be published in April 2018.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news