By Carol Shea-Porter
Last week, Congress passed a 1,600-page funding bill, known as the “CRomnibus,” which was packed with provisions that favored moneyed special interests over middle-class Americans. Although there were many good provisions in the bill, I voted against it because the bad clearly outweighed the good, and there was an alternative, a Continuing Resolution, which would have kept the government open and funded while members who opposed the bill worked to take out the big-money giveaways.
While it’s Congress’s job to fund the government, it’s underhanded when some members hide special-interest provisions, known as “riders,” in the funding bill. Last-minute 1,600-page bills make it impossible for the taxpaying public and members of Congress to find this stuff when there is just 48 hours before a vote. That means the lobbyists involved in backroom negotiations had an insurmountable head start over Main Street, and the lobbyists made sure the bill reflected their clients’ interests.
One of the most deeply disturbing provisions in this bill calls for a taxpayer-funded bailout for irresponsible institutions if they get themselves in trouble again. I was in Congress when big banks seriously damaged the economy and the middle class in 2008. I voted against the bank bailouts at the time. The next year, I helped pass the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which, while not perfect, corrected fundamental flaws in our financial system to try to prevent a future crisis.
Now, Congress has repealed an important part of that financial reform law – the section that limits the risks banks can take with federally insured money. Once again, we are back on the hook for an especially risky type of Wall Street gamble, known as a custom swap. These complicated financial instruments are not only risky, but also notoriously difficult for regulators to monitor because they are so complex.
Sound complicated? It is, which is why the big bank lobbyists figured they would meet little resistance. In fact, Citigroup lobbyists wrote the repeal language themselves, then heavily pressured their Republican allies to drop it into the annual funding bill.
Congress has just set a terrible precedent. With this victory in their pockets, we should expect the “too big to fail” banks and their allies in Congress to keep trying to dismantle financial reform and erode consumer protections by attaching further concessions to future funding bills. In the House, 57 Democrats voted yes and 67 Republicans voted no for this awful provision.
The bailout provision is just one of a number of special-interest victories in the CRomnibus. Another raises campaign contribution limits, giving a small number of wealthy individuals a lot more leverage to drown out our middle-class voices.
Nobody will even admit to writing this provision, which lets big-money donors give almost 10 times as much to national parties’ campaign committees. The maximum individual contribution to national party committees will increase from $97,200 to $777,600 per year. As a campaign finance reform advocate, I have always highlighted the corrupting nature of money in politics. Polls show Americans hate all this money, but Congress just increased the allowable amounts.
Not only did the special interests secure provisions to help themselves, but they also weakened protections for middle-class Americans. The bill’s little-noticed change to pensions could have a huge impact on American retirees, many of whom called my office during the two days leading up to the vote, concerned about the future of their promised benefits. Multi-employer pensions are now allowed to reduce benefits if they face potential insolvency up to 19 years in the future. According to the AARP, that means some retirees could see benefit cuts of more than 60 percent. Where is their bailout?
There are many other problems not even noticed and/or discussed yet. This bill, now law, makes it clearer than ever that something is very, very wrong in Washington. We cannot throw our hands up in despair though – Americans need to keep fighting to make sure Congress is working for the people also, not just Wall Street.
It has been my honor to advocate for the people of New Hampshire during my time as your representative. I am proud that my last major vote in the 113th Congress was a vote for middle-class families.