Over the weekend, the CRomnibus budget deal passed the Senate by a 56-40 margin after narrow approval by the House. The outcome is a win for big corporations and wealthy campaign donors, and a huge letdown for 99% of Americans, who once again have been shafted by back room negotiations and legislation written to favor the rich and powerful.
There's a lot to make ordinary citizens sick about the CRomnibus. Republicans used the legislation as an end-of-year Trojan Horse to pass numerous stealth provisions that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Two of the worst are rolling back Dodd-Frank financial regulations so banks can once again gamble with money insured by taxpayers, which re-opens the door to more bank bailouts; and further gutting campaign finance reform by letting rich donors give up to $1.5 million a year to political parties, ten times the current limit.
But the one CRomnibus secret that wasn't reported anywhere in the media until after the bill cleared both the House and Senate was that the budget deal renews a lucrative perk for members of Congress: the ability for each member to spend $1000 of our tax dollars per month per car on a luxury car allowance. The number of cars members can lease is limited only by the total pool of money funding Congressional operations.
Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado was the first to alert the public to this perk's renewal, when he posted about it on Facebook last Wednesday, the day after House Republican leaders filed the legislation. The relevant language was hidden on page 982 of the 1,603-page bill:
"None of the funds made available in this Act may be used by the Chief Administrative Officer of the House of Representatives to make any payments from any Members' Representational Allowance for the leasing of a vehicle, excluding mobile district offices, in an aggregate amount that exceeds $1,000 for the vehicle in any month."
At a time when U.S. families are finally getting their feet under them again after our economy's long climb back from the Great Recession, the audacity of Congress to vote itself a luxury perk like this is breathtaking. It passed only because it was buried in an enormous spending bill, with no public discussion or media coverage.
President Obama has said he will sign the CRomnibus, but he deserves to hear the American people's opinions about it. Act right now to tell President Obama to veto this deal, and send it back to Congress for an honest debate over its Congressional luxury car cash and many other unacceptable provisions. You can call the White House at 202-456-1111, or send him a quick e-mail using this tool powered by Represent.Us:
Where was Hillary when the CRomnibus reared its ugly head? As Politico made clear, "Clinton has not commented on the $1.1 trillion spending bill, which Warren claims will undo (financial) reforms made under the Dodd-Frank law."According to The Hill:
"The reason for Clinton's silence, some of her staunchest supporters say, is that she likely supported the spending bill — even if she didn't want to go on record with that support. 'I don't think she would have considered the legislation deeply flawed,' said one ally. 'She would have some issues with it, of course, and she'd think that it's not a perfect bill but I don't think she would have taken Warren's stance.'"
Other CRomnibus provisions that advance the GOP's agenda include allowing corporations to cut up to ten million workers' pensions; slashing $300 million from housing assistance to the homeless; reducing the EPA's budget by $60 million, which will lead to massive cutbacks and layoffs; and cutting $300 million from grants to low-income students.
It's good for the wealthy, the powerful, and Washington, D.C.'s luxury car rental companies. But the CRomnibus is bad for America, and President Obama needs to step up with his veto pen and do the right thing.
(UPDATE 11:30 pm: With little fanfare, earlier tonight President Obama signed the CRomnibus, a bill which also tonight was immortalized by Jon Stewart as unappealing enough to be the "Bill Cosby of legislation." Passage of the CROmnibus is sorry evidence of how corporate interests firmly control Washington, and how badly real change is needed.
President Obama's stated reason for signing it was that it was the best deal Democrats could get before the GOP assumes control of the Senate in January, and he was wrong. The GOP's brand is now so linked with government shutdowns that they don't want to be blamed for another. If more Democrats had stood unified and rejected the poison pill-packed CRomnibus, Republicans were prepared to pass a three month spending bill with current levels of funding, not shut the government down. As reported by The Hill:
"Republicans prepared a three-month stopgap spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, just in case anything went awry. 'That was always the fallback but we were going to do everything we could to pass the bill,' said one source."Three months from now, Obama could have then insisted the GOP pass a longer-term budget stripped of the riders the Republicans had crammed into the CRomnibus to force their agenda through, or face a veto. The unpopular provisions it was packed with could never survive up and down votes on their own. Instead, he and Congressional Democrats got rolled again.)
(CORRECTION 12/18: An earlier version of this post misstated the taxpayer-subsidized vehicle perk as new for FY2015, not a renewal of an existing perk.)