The Bipartisan Budget Deal Blues

Robert Borosage

“In Defeat for Tea Party, House passes $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill,” The New York Times reports. The compromise bill that will sail through the Senate by the end of the week is celebrated for heralding a return to “regular order,” to the bipartisan cooperation needed to get normal things done.

“This bill is a compromise, but it reflects Republican priorities and holds the line on spending in many critical areas,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) announced. Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) gleefully described the deal as ending “shutdown, slowdown, slam-down politics.” The White House praised legislators for cooperating and urged them to pass the legislation.

Bipartisan cooperation has its merits. There will be no government shutdown. The mindless, across-the-board sequester budget cuts are replaced with appropriations reflecting compromise and negotiation. The budget reflects legislators’ priorities, not simply a continuation of current spending to keep government open. These are, if not necessarily good things, surely better than the alternative.

But it is bizarre to hail as “regular order” the passage of a 1,582-page bill that no legislator will have time to read. And it is important to understand just how constipated the current bipartisan agreement is.

At a time of mass unemployment, this budget continues the austerity policies of the last years, a destructive departure from post-recession policies from Reagan forward. Adjusted for inflation, total funding in this budget is 10 percent lower than that in George W. Bush’s last budget in 2008. This budget will continue to impede the recovery.

At a time when we have a massive, growing and costly public investment deficit, this budget offers no help. Our basic infrastructure is decrepit, dated and increasingly dangerous. We aren’t providing even the basics in public education, from preschool to affordable college. We are cutting back on research and development, when remaining on the cutting edge is vital to our economic future. Our childhood poverty – above only Romania among developed countries – is a human tragedy and global disgrace. The budget is a bipartisan agreement to punt.

This is described as a defeat of the Tea Party because the right-wing zealots and wingbat lobbies – from Heritage to the Club for Growth – announced their opposition. But, as The New York Times reports, Heritage put out a poisonous wish list for the huge bill that included:

  • prohibiting funds to build a prison in the United States to house detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba;
  • eliminating all money for high-speed rail projects;
  • providing money for private school vouchers for the District of Columbia;
  • and significantly reducing the Internal Revenue Service’s budget.

All these were included in the bill. The schools for poor children will get less help. The regulators for the big banks will get less money than needed to do their jobs. And in the 1,582-page document are hidden hundreds of private deals that will only be revealed in days to come. One example, among the “careful decisions to target precious tax dollars to important programs” hailed by appropriations chairman Rogers, a Kentucky coal country representative, are coal-related riders that sustain loose regulation of coal company dumping of waste in local waters, and insure that the Export-Import bank will continue to finance coal-fired power plants abroad.

The inmates are no longer running the asylum. But this bipartisan deal is a defeat for the country. This budget is a far remove from the policies vital to this country’s future.

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