The Budget Bill: They Can’t Help It; This Is Who They Are

Robert Borosage

The first signs of the November election returns are apparent in the $1 trillion spending bill the lame duck Congress is about to pass in Washington.  Ironically, this spending bill was forged with resurgent Republicans on their best behavior. They are still a minority in the Senate in the lame duck session. Their leaders exercised adult supervision over the wingnuts, rejecting calls for a government shutdown over immigration because Obama. They largely adhered to the budget deal cut last year on spending limits, and agreed to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year through next October (with the exception of Homeland Security because Obama), putting off real changes until they assume the majority in the new Congress next year.

But good behavior and adult supervision didn’t stop the addition of revealing signature riders and last-minute deals. Consider these the early slush of the coming Republican winter, the first returns on investment for their donors. Tucked into the 1,603 page bill to fund the government – that no legislator will read – are cankerous riders, foreshadowing what is to come. They couldn’t help themselves; this is who they are. The budget includes measures that would

Open More Gambling Tables on Wall Street   The bill repeals part of the Dodd-Frank financial regulations, giving banks the ability to use taxpayer guaranteed deposits to gamble on derivatives, the exotic instruments central to the Wall Street wilding the blew up the economy.   They get to play you as the sap: gambling not only with other people’s money but with your guarantee to cover their losses.

Expand Big Money in Politics  The measure, slipped into the bill with no hearings or public debate, triples the amount the rich can give to party committees (to $3.1 million a couple per election cycle). This increases the clout of the super-rich and dims somewhat the influence of the only very rich. Not much of a difference, but, hey, it’s the principle of the thing.

Embolden Tax Cheaters The bill will cut IRS funding by $345.6 million, down below its level in 2008. This perversely cuts the budget of an agency that brings revenue to the government by enforcing tax laws and cracking down on illegal tax dodges. Republicans will have to wait until next year to try to cut taxes on the rich and corporations. So this year they settled for making it easier to cheat by weakening the cop of the tax beat.

Abet the poisoning our air, water and land The bill will cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency for the fifth straight year, leaving down by more than 20% since 2010.   EPA staffing is now down to where it was in 1989 when climate change meant summer was turning to fall.  It cuts funding for research into renewable energy while adding resources to accelerate on and offshore oil and gas development. And it prohibits the administration from levying more fees on domestic oil and gas producers. The Koch brothers collect the first returns on their investment.

Make current retirees more vulnerable. For the first time, the government authorizes breaking the promise to those already retired, allowing cuts in pension benefits from those in multi-employer pension plans. The trust fund for these plans is inadequate to cover future promises. Instead of guaranteeing benefits to those already retired, a bipartisan agreement will allow harsh cuts in benefits. This sets a chilling precedent for Social Security and other contractual retirement promises. Congress bailed out the banks when their excesses blow up the economy; they even paid the bonuses of the AIG traders at the epicenter of the crisis on the grounds that contracts had to be honored.  But apparently not in the case of  contractual promises to retired workers.

Give the military more money and programs for the vulnerable less. The Pentagon gets $575 billion from this spending bill (including $64 billion for operations overseas); all other programs get $492 billion. We’ll continue to throw money at smart weapons we don’t need while starving investment in smart kids we can’t do without.

Calling it the worst of “government for the rich and powerful, “Senator Elizabeth Warren led a last-minute revolt against the Wall Street deal, to the dismay of legislators desperate to pass it and get out of town.

This budget was largely negotiated before the elections. Republicans chose to be on their best behavior in the lame duck session. But even then, they left their mark. They can’t help it. This is who they are.

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