Well, we seem to have averted yet another government shutdown. Congress has passed, and Obama has signed, a 1.1 trillion-dollar bill that will keep the government operating through September of 2015. (It isn’t a budget bill, however; the last time Congress passed an actual budget, rather than an “omnibus spending bill” was 1997.)
Several members of Congress have lauded the measure as reassuring evidence that partisans can, indeed, work together. Others have pointed out that when you are distributing goodies desired by those partisans—when your legislation is a “Christmas Tree” with “ornaments” benefitting lawmakers and special interests—co-operation is easier to achieve.
What are those Christmas “goodies”? Who will benefit from them and who will pay for them?
Elizabeth Warren has pointed out that the measure contains multiple Wall Street giveaways (not to mention repealing part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill), but cuts over $300 million from the Pell Grant program.
Merry Christmas! Bankers win, students lose.
The giveaways to Wall Street, including the measures that once again open the door to the trading practices that triggered the Great Recession, have been the subject of a great deal of public debate. Other “gifts” have flown under the radar. Democratic Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado recently highlighted one of those.
Pointing to research done by the government watchdog group, “Represent US,” Polis noted that the bill allocates up to $1,000 per month to subsidize Congress members’ cars. At the same time, the bill authorized the reduction of benefits being paid to retirees by struggling multi-employer pension plans.
Merry Christmas! Car subsidies for Congress, coal for pensioners.
There was more, of course—much more. Defense lobbyists scored a big win, with a provision to pay $479 million for warplanes the Pentagon did not ask for. Gotta keep those defense contractors in business, you know.
Too bad ordinary Americans didn’t have the benefit of those defense industry lobbyists. Generosity to the well connected didn’t extend to the millions of low-wage Americans who are still struggling in the wake of the recession. Among other things, the bill cuts $93 Million from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program. It cuts $300 million from supportive housing programs serving the homeless. Section 8 housing vouchers were funded at a level half a billion dollars below Administration requests.
And of course, there were lots of those last-minute “special” provisions so beloved by our lawmakers. The bill overrules the 70% of Washington, D.C. residents who recently voted to reform D.C. marijuana laws, puts taxpayers back on the hook for big bank bailouts by repealing laws that were put in place after the 2008 financial collapse, and gives billionaires the right to donate up to 1.5 Million to political parties of their choice. (That’s ten times the current limit, if you’re counting.)
And a cautionary note: if you’re on the road in 2015, look out for big trucks. Negotiators tucked a policy rider into the bill that suspends regulations that set maximum time periods behind the wheel, after which professional truckers had to stop and sleep.
This Christmas, We the People evidently get to choose between the rock of gridlock and the Deep Blue Sea of venal “bipartisanship.”
It’s a sea on which only those who have yachts can sail.