In case you missed it, there’s a monster lurking in our nation’s capital. It’s assumed the form of a 1,603-page, $1.1 trillion spending package written (allegedly) to avert another government shutdown.
It’s known as the omnibus government funding bill, but I prefer to call it ominous, because the more we find out about it, the worse it looks.
The $1.1 trillion spending bill was approved this week by the House and sent on to the Senate, where a temporary measure to fund the government through Wednesday was approved Saturday to give members more time to look it over.
How ugly is the language included in this measure? Let me count the ways:
Pensions: Congressional leaders signed off on a provision offered by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and John Kline, R-Minn., that will allow multi-employer pension plan trustees to slash current retirees’ pension benefits as a means of shoring up funds.
This “bargain” upends the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) that until now has expressly forbidden any cuts to the earned pension benefits of workers who have already retired. Think about it. An employee’s hard work was an integral part of the CEO’s great salary. Now, that retired employee’s income — despite sound decisions about what he or she could afford — is torn apart, with no way to replace it.
Weakening ERISA also gives credence to the false premise that pensions are a gift from employers. Pensions are a mutual obligation paid for in part by workers who, in many cases, contribute a significant portion of their earnings toward what they hope will be a decent and dignified retirement.
Using the threat of insolvency as a hammer, Congress responded with a provision that could leave private sector retirees facing cuts of up to two-thirds to their fixed income. There may be some retirees who have other sources of income or family who could make up that difference, but I don’t know any, and I suspect you don’t either.
Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act: The spending bill strips from the Dodd-Frank banking reform law a vital consumer safeguard, the so-called “swaps push-out” rule. This means Wall Street can once again use derivatives, the same risky transactions that triggered the financial meltdown of 2007 and led to the “Great Recession” from which we are still recovering.
That’s right! The House just voted to make it much easier for big banks to gamble with taxpayers’ money again.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren blasted the effort to roll back derivatives regulation. “Middle-class families are still paying a heavy price for the decisions to weaken the financial cops, leaving Wall Street free to load up on risk,” she said.
Warren’s absolutely right. What’s good for Citigroup is not necessarily good for the rest of us. In this case it’s very bad for working America.
Campaign Finance: The ominous — oops, omnibus — bill allows wealthy individuals and PACs to increase the amount they contribute to party committees.
It’s not often you’re asked to jump to page 1,599 of a 1,603 document, but take a good look, because the language is just plain scary. It allows wealthy donors who have donated the maximum of $32,400 under federal law to the Democratic or Republican National Committees to give up to $324,000. That’s 10 times as much!
Wrap your head around that. In a two-year election cycle, a wealthy couple could donate more than $1.2 million to political parties. Around the country, multi-millionaires and billionaires are rejoicing. As if they don’t have enough influence in politics now.
The funding bill is speeding through the lame duck Congress like a gleeful child on a water slide. Its next stop is the Senate, and then on to the President’s desk. Credit is due those who voted against the measure in the House of Representatives, including Connecticut’s own John Larson, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, and Elizabeth Esty.
But the product and the process so far are nothing short of hideous. No public hearings, no input from citizens — just an epic, incomprehensible document crafted behind closed doors that promises to further aggravate income inequality and, quite possibly, set the stage for another shakedown of American taxpayers for the benefit of corporations and the ultra-wealthy.
I’ve heard the Democrat’s argument that when the new Congress is sworn in next month, it can do even more damage in a bill to fund the government. Maybe so. But tell that to the retired worker who, after a career of hard work that paid for their CEO’s golden parachute, has to close the front door on a house suddenly too expensive to call home.
Sal Luciano is Executive Director of Council 4, a union representing 32,000 workers.
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