This week has been very busy in Washington as Congress created yet another manufactured crisis with threats to shut down the government over a divisive continuing resolution.
The good news is that, for now, the government will remain open as the House passed a omnibus bill to fund the government for another year. The House also passed a two-day continuing resolution allowing the Senate time to pass the House bill. The omnibus bill created a whirlwind of controversy with numerous amendments that outraged millions of Americans. There is a very small possibility that the Senate will amend or reject the House bill over these controversial amendments.
There are three main amendments that drew the biggest scrutiny and threatened to kill the bill.
1) The Wall Street Rollback
House Republicans added an amendment written by Citi Group stripping regulations on derivatives trading. This is just another handout to the big banks on Wall Street, putting the taxpayers on the hook for billions – or trillions – of dollars.
“TBTF (Too Big To Fail Banks) are now worth $53 trillion,” wrote Liz Iacobucci “Do the math. If there is another Wall Street meltdown; and another bailout; and this next bailout also requires the government to borrow an amount equal to one-third of what TBTF institutions are worth now…”
This provision drew strong opposition from the AFL-CIO:
“The AFL-CIO strongly opposes efforts to make it easier for too-big-to-fail banks to use taxpayer-backed funds to make risky bets in the derivatives markets,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
2) The Pension Reform Amendment
Labor groups were outraged that Republicans added an amendment that would drastically reduce pension benefits to millions of retirees.
“Today we have seen the ugly side of political backroom dealings as thousands of retirees may have their pensions threatened by proposed legislation that reportedly includes massive benefit cuts,” said Jimmy Hoffa, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “Thousands of hard-working men and women deserve better than having their pensions slashed by a bill that can’t stand on its own merit.”
This provision would allow multi-employer pension plans to reduce payouts to retirees from and average of $50,000 a year to approximately $15,000 a year. The “unfunded liability” is largely due to the massive losses these plans took during the last two Wall Street crashes. But the underfunding will not become an issue for at least another ten years – so there is no need to rush this amendment through on a piece of must-pass legislation.
“Changing ERISA to allow cuts in promised benefits is a ticket to poverty and dependence on government asisstance,” IAM International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger wrote members of Congress last month.
“They’ve sneaked this in,” said Dave Erickson of Isanti, Minnesota. “They don’t have the guts to come out and tell us they’re taking our money. It makes me sick. The pension payment was something I counted on.”
3) Campaign Finance Reform
Campaign finance reformers were outraged when the bill was amended to allow millionaires and billionaires to push even more money into political campaigns. Currently a donor can give $32,000 a year to the party of their choice. The Omnibus spending amendment will allow wealthy donors to donate $777,600 per year or $1,555,200 in a two-year cycle.
“Another (amendment) would raise campaign contribution limits, giving a small number of wealthy individuals even more leverage to drown out our middle class voices,” stated Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, who voted against the Omnibus bill.
Neither party is taking credit for the campaign finance amendment that will benefit both parties. It is a win for the fundraisers – but a loss for working families, who are losing their voice in Washington to big money donors.
In a very close 219-206 vote the Omnibus bill did pass the House. The bill saw many Representatives from both parties oppose their own party leaders with their votes. Progressives were angered to see that 57 Democrats decided to support the Republican bill in spite of the “poison pills” in the bill.
The Congressional Representatives in my home state were split in their votes on the Omnibus bill. Both voiced their support for keeping the government open and stated their opposition to these amendments; however, they reached different decisions when it came time to vote.
“Of course Congress had to keep the government open, but it should have been done by passing a Continuing Resolution that funded the government, but didn’t contain these harmful provisions. I strongly opposed the CROmnibus bill, which would hurt working Americans by allowing big-money bailouts for banks and rolling back already-inadequate campaign finance laws,” said Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter.
“In 2008, I voted against the bank bailouts and for policies that saved us from a depression. I am deeply concerned that this bill calls for a taxpayer-funded bailout for irresponsible institutions if they get themselves in trouble again. The bailout provision is just one of a number of special-interest victories in this bill. Another would raise campaign contribution limits, giving a small number of wealthy individuals even more leverage to drown out our middle class voices. Putting American taxpayers on the hook and gutting campaign finance laws is unacceptable, so I voted no,” concluded Shea-Porter.
“While I remain concerned about certain aspects of the so-called “CRomnibus,” including a troublesome campaign finance provision that increases the donation-limits for party conventions and political parties, I believe that first and foremost it is our responsibility as Members of Congress to work across the aisle to keep the government running,” stated Congresswoman Annie Kuster. “Last year’s government shutdown was devastating for Granite State families; it put approximately 800,000 Americans out of work and wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. Congress should never allow politics to get in the way of doing what’s right for our constituents at home, so I’m pleased Democrats and Republicans were able to come together to pass this legislation and provide the certainty our country needs moving forward into the new year.”
I have – and will continue to – support Congresswoman Annie Kuster (and the other 57 Democrats); however, I completely disagree with her on this vote. I share her optimism that our elected representatives can put aside their partisan party politics and do what is needed for working families; however, this bill is not one of those opportunities. This bill will decimate what is left of our campaign finance regulations, and put the Wall Street gamblers in charge of our economy once again, using my taxes to hedge their risky bets.
If these 57 Democrats had voted against the bill, the Republicans would have had no choice but to remove these controversial amendments and offer the bill up for another vote. The Republican leadership knew the bill would not pass without Democratic support because the ultra-right wing (67 in all) planned to vote against it as well.
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Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter’s strong leadership and dedication to working families will be greatly missed in Congress over the next two years. I hope she will consider running for the CD01 seat again in 2016, or even run against Senator Kelly Ayotte for a seat in the Senate.
There was one other little known amendment that was slipped into the omnibus bill that would reduce the mandatory rest periods for truck drivers – against Transportation Secretary Foxx’s strong opposition. The amendment reversed the required rest period allowing truckers to drive up to 82 hours a week.