Congress gives bankers a sweet deal in funding bill, with more to come

Republicans preview their priorities in spending bill: yes to Wall Street, no to environment and consumers

The omnibus funding bill that the lame-duck Congress passed in the darkness of Saturday night sheds light on what we can expect from the Republican-dominated Congress that will take over in January. Here’s a hint: The bankers are smiling.

In addition to providing money that will keep the government running until September, the bill included some extras that have nothing to do with the federal budget. Among these is a sweet deal for banks actually written by Citigroup lobbyists and tacked on to the omnibus legislation. It repeals a section of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law passed in the wake of the near collapse of the American economy. 

The repeal will allow federally insured banks to get back into the business of gambling with depositors’ money by dealing in exotic and risky securities. As long as the banks win their bets, everything is cool. Should they lose, though, as they did in a big way during the 2008 financial crisis, American taxpayers will be on the hook for their losses. 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other liberal Democrats cried foul when this stinker of an amendment came to light last week, but to no avail. The funding bill had to be passed or the government would run out of money, so President Obama and the Democratic leadership in the Senate gave the Republicans and the bankers what they wanted. Obama said this was the best deal Democrats could get and that putting up a fight would only delay passage of a funding bill until January, giving Republicans the opportunity to come up with something even worse.

As a result, Democratic leaders backed off, not only from opposing the banking giveaway, but from trying to stop several other policy riders the Republicans slipped into the bill. Here’s what a few of those riders will do: 

• Allow underfunded multi-employer pension plans to severely cut benefits for retirees; 

• Halt IRS efforts to scrutinize the tax-exempt status of political organizations;

• Stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the amount of lead in ammunition and fishing gear;

• Keep the Fish and Wildlife Service from declaring the sage grouse an endangered species;

• Prohibit Guantanamo Bay terror detainees from being released or transferred;

• And block Transportation Department regulations that aim to make sure truckers get enough sleep before they hit the road after a long haul.

In addition, Republican add-ons struck a blow on behalf of incandescent light bulbs and more salt in school lunches. 

It is easy to see where this is going in the next two years of GOP dominance of Congress. There will be more Republican legislation that frees Wall Street bankers to act like Las Vegas gamblers, more efforts to undermine environmental protections and more attacks on regulations that favor consumers over corporations. And, knowing that they need to find a way to keep the president from pulling out his veto pen, Republicans will pad must-pass government funding bills with conservative policies the president will hate but may have to swallow.

The bankers got an early Christmas present from Republicans, with more and bigger gifts to come in the new year. Ho, ho, ho!

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