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Rep Annie Kuster Pushes To Repeal Campaign Finance In CR/Omnibus

Congresswoman Annie Cosponsors Legislation to Repeal Campaign Finance Provision included in End-of-Year Government Funding Bill 

Washington, DC – Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) has cosponsored the Close the Floodgates Act, which would repeal a provision, passed as part of last month’s crucial funding bill, that raised the limits for contributions made to political parties for use in conventions, party headquarters construction, and legal/recount fees.

“Our campaign finance system is broken, and I have long fought for measures to give the power back to individuals, rather than large donors. We need to encourage small grassroots donations, not raise the limit on the amount of money that can be donated to political parties,” said Congresswoman Annie Kuster. “That’s why I’m fighting to repeal this harmful provision, which was slipped into a funding bill that was urgently needed to keep the government open. I urge all my fellow Members of Congress to pass this legislation and join me in my fight to curb the influence of special interests and large-dollar outside groups in our campaign finance system.”

Congresswoman Annie Kuster has been a vocal advocate for campaign finance reform in the House. She helped introduce the Government by the People Act, legislation that would amplify the voices of individuals by creating a number of public financing alternatives for grassroots donors and candidates. She also helped introduce a constitutional amendment that would largely overturn the controversial Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon V. FEC by giving Congress and state governments the right to pass legislation to limit the influence of money in federal elections. As part of her commitment to curbing special interests in the electoral system, Congresswoman Kuster also hosted a roundtable last year with Rep. John Sarbanes (MD-03) and other stakeholders to discuss the importance of campaign finance reform.

The Close the Floodgates Act was introduced this week by Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06). It would repeal a campaign finance provision passed last month as part of an essential government funding bill, the so-called CRomnibus, which prevented a government shutdown. The campaign finance provision raised the yearly limit donors could contribute to political parties from $97,200 up to $777,600 by creating new spending accounts for political parties to use specifically to pay for party conventions and construction of party headquarters. The Close the Floodgates Act would eliminate these special accounts and restore the donation limit for political parties to the original amount.

Why I Voted No On The “CROmnibus” Spending Bill By Carol Shea-Porter

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.

Are You Tired Of Congress Manufacturing A Budget Crisis To Force Through Terrible Legislation?

Budget details: you couldn’t make this stuff up, if you tried

It’s not like Congress didn’t know they had to pass a federal budget.

It’s not like they didn’t have lots and lots of time to put an appropriations bill together, either before or after the elections.

It’s not like they didn’t know what happens when the money runs out. (Hint: not all that much, actually. Except that 800,000 federal workers are required to work without being paid.)

No, this Congress knew all too well what would happen. Since President Obama was elected, Congress has:

  1. had a budget crisis in March 2009
  2. had a budget crisis in September 2009
  3. had a budget crisis in September 2010
  4. had THREE budget crises in December 2010
  5. had TWO budget crises in March 2011
  6. had a budget crisis in April 2011
  7. had a budget crisis in August 2012
  8. had a budget crisis in September 2012
  9. had a budget crisis in March 2013
  10. had a budget crisis – and a government shutdown – in October 2013
  11. had a budget crisis in January 2014
  12. and had a budget crisis just three months ago.

(That’s a rough list. No guarantees of accuracy, I may have missed some. And it doesn’t include the debt-limit crises.)

And yet once again, this weekend, right now… Congress finds itself in a budget emergency.

And from listening to some of the politicians, you’d almost think no-one could have predicted this.

And with all their angst (“Emergency!” “Emergency!” “Can’t let the government shutdown again!”)…

… it would be really easy to overlook some of the so-called “details” of this spending bill. Details like:

  1. The so-called “Citibank” provision that would undo part of Dodd-Frank financial regulation, and allow big banks to rely on the FDIC to backstop risky derivative trades. (Read NHLN coverage here and here.)
  2. The Kline-Miller amendment, which would allow cuts to the earned retirement benefits of millions of retirees. AARP calls it a “secret attack by Congress” and a “last minute backroom deal.”   (Read the AARP alert here.)
  3. The (ahem) provision to help the GOP afford its next convention. According to the New York Times, “The secret negotiations that led to one of the most significant expansions of campaign contributions in recent years began with what Republican leaders regarded as an urgent problem: How would they pay for their presidential nominating convention in Cleveland in two years? It ended with a bipartisan agreement … that would allow wealthy donors to begin giving more than $1 million every election cycle to each party’s national committees.” (Wow. 2016 is going to be a record-breaking presidential campaign season.)
  4. The “Collins rider,” which would increase truck driver hours of service, and other provisions that would increase truck weight limits in Kentucky, Mississippi and Wisconsin. “None of these special interest [provisions] has been subject to any committee hearings, adequate safety review or cost/benefit analysis. However, all of them will have a profound impact on highway safety, deaths and injuries.” The bill will “eliminate the two nights off-duty for truck drivers to rest, while significantly increasing working and driving hours for truck drivers up to 82 hours a week when fatigue is already a well-known and well-documented highway killer.” (Read the Truck Safety Coalition alert here.)
  5. Provisions prohibiting the Fish and Wildlife Service from adding the sage grouse to the endangered species list. This one was apparently added “at the behest of grazing, mining, and oil and gas interests.” (Read more here.)

According to the Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the GOP added “nearly 100” special interest riders to the bill.

The five, above, are just the ones that have already attracted public attention.

Can’t help but wonder what ELSE is in that bill.

 

Senator Shaheen Votes For CROmnibus Bill While Objecting To Certain Provisions

Immediate Release:

Legislation funds the government while making strategic investments in job creation and economic growth in New Hampshire

(Washington, DC) – Tonight U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) voted in favor of a bipartisan appropriations bill that funds most government operations through the 2015 fiscal year.

“The spending bill we passed tonight invests in strategic priorities that will support job creation, economic growth and our national security,” said Shaheen. “It is far from perfect, but it is the product of a bipartisan compromise that in my mind was better than any alternative. I’m disappointed by certain provisions included in this bill – including the rolling back of important taxpayer protections from risky behavior on Wall Street. But I’d rather pass this imperfect, bipartisan compromise now, than face a partisan Republican bill next year, one that would be more at odds with the priorities I believe best serve New Hampshire’s economy and middle-class families. This legislation will help to continue our economic growth and avert another costly government shutdown.”

Shaheen provisions and priorities included in the final spending bill include:

New Hampshire’s Economy

The bill includes funding for another round of State Trade Export Promotion (STEP) grant program. The STEP program, which Shaheen helped create, is an export initiative that helps states assist small businesses to enter and succeed in the international marketplace. The bill also provides funding to complete the activation of the Berlin Prison which will boost the economy in Northern New Hampshire. Shaheen has fought for the opening of the prison since its funding became at risk and has continued to be a leader in the fight to fully open the facility. She has repeatedly pressed Congress and the Obama Administration to prioritize funding and has highlighted the economic boost the prison would have on one of the most economically distressed areas of the state. The facility is expected to create 340 local jobs and provide a $40 million economic boost to Northern New Hampshire.

Pease Air National Guard Base and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

The spending bill includes funding for the new KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling tanker that will be housed at Pease Air National Guard base in New Hampshire. The new tankers will replace the Air Force’s current fleet of 1950’s era KC-135s, and Pease – home to the New Hampshire Air National Guard’s 157th Air Refueling Wing – is slated to be the first Air National Guard unit to receive the next generation tanker in fiscal year 2018. Shaheen has advocated for Pease to receive the tanker since 2011, and last year, announced that the Air Force had designated Pease as the first Air National Guard unit to receive the KC-46A.

The bill also includes $41 million in infrastructure upgrades to prepare the Pease Air National Guard Base for the new tankers, as well investments in further energy efficiency upgrades at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which will reduce costs and improve performance at the shipyard.

Veterans

The spending bill also provides support for service men and women and addresses issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill increases funding for the Beyond Yellow Ribbon Program, which connects service men and women and their families with community support, training, and other services, by $15 million.

The bill also supports job opportunities for veterans by incorporating several of Shaheen’s veteran small business priorities included in her legislation the Veterans Entrepreneurship Act. The bill includes fee waivers for veteran small business owners applying for Small Business Association (SBA) loans who are looking for loans to start or expand their small businesses. The bill also makes important investments to continue reducing the backlog of veterans’ benefits and appeals claims.

Peace Corps

The bill gives victims of rape who serve in the Peace Corps health care equity by providing them with health care coverage to terminate a pregnancy. Peace Corps volunteers will now receive the same basic health care benefits provided to other women on federal health care plans.

Heroin Abuse Intervention Funding

The bill will help local communities in New Hampshire address the growing heroin abuse crisis. It provides critical resources for communities by setting aside $7 million to strengthen law enforcement efforts in states with high incidences of heroin abuse. Shaheen has been working with local, state and federal officials as well as law enforcement and public health experts to identify ways to address the growing heroin and prescription drug problem in New Hampshire. Earlier this year, she announced Drug Free Communities (DFC) Support Program funding for New Hampshire, which will educate young people about the dangers of drug abuse to ultimately reduce youth substance use. The Senate Appropriations Committee also unanimously adopted several provisions Shaheen proposed and which were a direct result of her outreach with federal, state and local officials along with public health and treatment professionals.

Children and Families

The spending bill invests in important programs for children in New Hampshire such as Head Start, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Child Care and Development Block Grant program.  It allocates $430 million for the Violence Against Women Act, which is a record level of funding.  These resources are critical to providing the support needed by the millions of women who are the victims of violence.

Congressional House Members Split On Omnibus Bill

 

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.”

(Read also: Another WIN for Wall Street… and a huge LOSS for the middle class)

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.

 *               *             *           *          *               *

Editor’s Notes:

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.

Read more about this amendment, on Bloomberg.

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