There is an unwritten rule in Congress that before you do even a little for the working class you must do a lot for the donor class. So while the $1.1 trillion — yes, that’s a “t” — budget bill now winding its way to passage contains some tax breaks for low-income workers, in reality, it’s a bonanza for Big Business.
Congressional leadership actually split the bill in two with one devoted to spending and the other devoted to cuts. “That way,” Paul Singer writes in USA Today, “Republican conservatives can vote against the spending bill, Democratic liberals can vote against the tax bill, and both bills still pass and a government shutdown is averted.”
Let’s start with the fossil fuel industry. For 40 years, Republicans and some Democrats have been demanding an end to the ban on crude oil exports. The omnibus bill lifts that ban just as the world community meeting in Paris agreed that emissions released from fossil fuels must be lowered if the planet is to escape incineration. Selling off cheap oil abroad is — you should excuse the expression —like throwing gasoline on the fire.
But in Congress, the energy giants have money to burn, and that cash speaks louder than threats to the earth or its inhabitants. In the 113th Congress (2013 and 2014) the fossil fuel industry spent $326 million and change on lobbying and political campaigns. In return, they received government favors totaling $33.7 billion. Do the math: According to the advocacy group Oil Change International, for every dollar the oil, gas and coal industry spends on influencing Washington, it gets back $103 in subsidies. With this new spending bill, expect another gusher of donations to be coming in any day now.
Thanks to the Republican-controlled House, and to the applause of the firearms industry, even in the wake of San Bernardino and every other mass killing this year, the bill still bans federal funding for public-health scientists to study the causes of gun violence (and continues to allow people on the no-fly list to buy guns).
These are just a couple of the goodies being sold at the congressional big box store. We’re witnessing an orgy of predatory, omnivorous bipartisanship. To show us — all evidence to the contrary — that they are not dysfunctional and can collaborate to keep Republican fanatics like Senator Ted Cruz from shutting down the federal government again, the two political parties have mounted a raid on the US Treasury, largely for the benefit of the moneyed interests that bankroll their campaigns.
As Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan watchdog, told The New York Times’ David Herszenhorn, “Anyone who wants to get anything done, who has already been frustrated by a virtually nonfunctioning Washington, is trying to cram whatever they can into this bill.”
The “whatever,” reports The Washington Post, includes some 50 expiring business and individual tax breaks that both Democrats and Republicans want to extend. As we suggested at the outset, in order to include tax breaks for children, college students and low-wage families, party leaders apparently have agreed to make some expiring business tax credits permanent. This has prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to rub his hands in glee and predict that this will make it easier next year — an election year, when more money is collected for campaigns — to achieve even further tax breaks for business.
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It’s a bipartisan borrowing spree, says Maya MacGuineas, and it will add about a trillion dollars to the nation’s debt, as Democrats insist on spending more and Republicans refuse to raise taxes to pay the bills and cover the cost.
Meanwhile, behind the closed doors of those back rooms of Congress, the wheeling-dealing grew more frenzied as the clock ticked down. Wall Street wolves prowled the Hill seeking obliging politicians who would insert into the spending bill a rollback of reforms enacted after the financial crash of 2008. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was born of that crisis to do what its name implies, remains a constant target. Stealth mercenaries wanted to kill or cripple it, and promised tote bags of cash if it’s done by the next election.
There’s more. Had the food industry gotten its way, the spending bill would have gutted state laws requiring that genetically modified food be labeled. They were held at bay, but a second health safeguard was removed. Back in 2008, Congress passed a farm bill requiring food sellers to tag meat with the name of the country of origin. That requirement has just been scuttled. The website Talking Points Memo quotes a lobbyist for the US Cattlemen’s Association, which supports identifying the meat as a public safety measure: “…We could have Chinese chicken within the year on shelves and no one will know where it came from.” Perhaps some lonely but brave soul in Congress can insert a last-minute rider requiring that when the initial shipment of chickens arrives, they first be served to customers in the Senate and House dining rooms.
Beginning, we would suggest, with good old Senator Mitch McConnell of whom we were just speaking. The worst of all the sneak attacks on democracy unfolding right now on Capitol Hill has his itchy trigger fingerprints all over the bombsight. McConnell, who ever since he arrived has been auctioning Congress off piece-by-piece to the highest bidders, has seen to it that the spending bill includes two provisions to emasculate efforts by the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission to require public disclosure of large political donations by individuals and corporations.
In other words, as the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik suggests, McConnell agrees not to shut down the government only if the millionaires and billionaires are permitted to continue buying the government in ever greater secrecy.
By such are we governed today: soulless puppets dangling from the rich man’s string, their wooden hands outstretched, palms upturned. As we speak they are writing in secret new rules to perpetuate the rule of the few.
How long do we suffer them?