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Congress Spreads Joy to the 1 Percent

Research & Commentary
December 31, 2014

by Sheila Kennedy

The 2015 Congressional spending bill was a holiday giveaway to special interests.

In the 2015 spending bill, Congress spread holiday cheer to the 1 percent.

In the 2015 spending bill, Congress spread holiday cheer to the 1 percent.

By Sheila Suess Kennedy

Towards the end of 2014, Americans averted yet another government shutdown. Congress passed, and Obama signed, a 1.1 trillion dollar spending bill that will keep the government operating through September of 2015.

Several members of Congress have lauded the measure as reassuring evidence of bipartisan cooperation.

Others have pointed out that bipartisan cooperation suddenly became easy when the goal was to give away holiday goodies benefiting lawmakers and special interests.

What were these “goodies”?

Elizabeth Warren has pointed out that the measure contains multiple Wall Street giveaways (not to mention repealing part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill) while cutting over $300 million from the Pell Grant program.

Happy holidays! Bankers win, students lose. [pullquote] In the 2015 spending bill, bankers win while students lose. [/pullquote]

The giveaways to Wall Street, including the measures that once again open the door to the trading practices that triggered the Great Recession, have been the subject of a great deal of public debate.

Other “gifts” have flown under the radar. Democratic Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado noted that the bill allocates up to $1,000 per month to subsidize Congress members’ cars. At the same time, the bill authorized the reduction of benefits being paid to retirees by struggling multi-employer pension plans.

Happy holidays! Car subsidies for Congress, coal for pensioners. [pullquote] The new bill also subsidizes Congress members’ cars. [/pullquote]

There was more, of course—much more. Defense lobbyists scored a big win, with a provision to pay $479 million for warplanes the Pentagon did not ask for. Gotta keep those defense contractors in business, you know.

Too bad ordinary Americans didn’t have the benefit of those defense industry lobbyists. Generosity to the well connected didn’t extend to the millions of low-wage Americans who are still struggling in the wake of the recession.

Among other things, the bill cuts $93 Million from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program. It cuts $300 million from supportive housing programs serving the homeless. Section 8 housing vouchers were funded at a level half a billion dollars below administration requests. [pullquote] Defense lobbyists scored a big win while housing programs for the poor were gutted. [/pullquote]

And, of course, there were many of those last-minute “special” provisions so beloved by our lawmakers. The bill overruled the 70 percent of Washington, D.C. residents who recently voted to reform D.C. marijuana laws, put taxpayers back on the hook for big bank bailouts by repealing laws that were put in place after the 2008 financial collapse, and gave billionaires the right to donate up to 1.5 million to political parties of their choice. (That’s ten times the current limit, if you’re counting.)

Finally, a cautionary note: if you’re on the road in 2015, look out for big trucks. Negotiators tucked a policy rider into the bill that suspends regulations setting maximum time periods behind the wheel, after which professional truckers had to stop and sleep. [pullquote] Bipartisanship, it seems, is a sea on which only those who have yachts can sail. [/pullquote]

This holiday season, We the People get to choose between the rock of gridlock and the Deep Blue Sea of venal “bipartisanship.”

It’s a sea on which only those who have yachts can sail.

Sheila Suess Kennedy, J.D. is Professor of Law and Public Policy in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis. Her scholarly publications include eight books and numerous law review and journal articles. Professor Kennedy is a columnist for the Indianapolis Business Journal and a frequent lecturer, public speaker and contributor to popular periodicals. She blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net

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