7 Nasty Provisions in Congress' New Budget: From Coddling Bankers to Trashing School Lunch

Congress is signaling what the next two years of Republican majority rule is going to be like as it finishes a massive spending bill through next fall—and it’s not a pretty sight for progressives.

The biggest eyebrow-raising moves would restore taxpayer bailouts for Wall Street investments that helped cause the 2008 global economic crash; would allow hundreds of private retirement pension plans to be cut by a third; and would allow a ten-fold increase in donations to political parties. All these proposals, if not stripped from the bill before final passage, benefit the wealthiest Americans and corporate executives.

But there’s always more in any 1,600-page bill moving through the Capitol. The bill continues restrictions on abortion rights; blocks federal agencies from limiting climate-change emissions; takes a two-faced approach to pot policy—limting new laws in Washington, D.C., but taking a hands-off approach elsewhere, and bites into Michelle Obama’s healthier school food initiative.

Congressional leaders have been giving conflicting statements about whether the bill will be passed sometime on Thursday or next week. In the meantime, here are summaries of seven of the most striking provisions, based on accounts in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Politico.com.

1. Taxpayer Bailouts for Wall Street Casinos. The 2010 Dodd-Frank law tried to prevent the riskiest investments from spiraling out of control by ending Federal Deposit Insurance Corporations coverage of derivative trading. Now, in language that was written by lobbyists, according to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the FDIC’s taxpayer-funded insurance of these risky gambits would return.

2. Multi-Employer Pension Plans Can Be Cut. As America faces a retirement security crisis with tens of millions of Americans relying on Social Security for 90 percent of their incomes, those people with pensions seemed like the lucky few. Not so, anymore, if this provision remains. An estimated 200 private employers across the country don’t have the promised money for pensions of 10.5 million workers. So Congress is saying, ‘just pay based on what you have,’ which, in many cases can result in cuts to monthly payments by a third, experts said.

3. More Reason to Curse The Koch Brothers. The ongoing flood of hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns, as pioneered and epitomized by the libertarian Koch brothers political operation, has pushed Congress to try to make political parties more meaningful the only way they know how. Not by taking new and bolder stands on issues, but by increasing by an eight-to-ten-fold factor how much can be legally given to a range of political party causes. One example: the current $32,400 cap on donating to national party committee would be $324,000. And that’s not all, there are new catagories and higher caps for other accounts, such as those surrounding national political conventions. These kinds of moves are another nail in democracy’s coffin, as the system tilts evermore to servicing the wealthiest individuals and interests.

4. The Culture Wars Continue, Starting With Abortion. It hardly matters that most Americans across the political spectrum support reproductive rights. The House-drafted bill continues to ban using federal funds for most abortions, does not allow federal funding for abortions in the District of Columbia, and requires Obamacare applicants to be informed if a health plan covers abortions.

5. Creates New Obstacles To Climate Change Action: It’s no surprise that House Republicans keep going after the Environmental Protection Agency—a department created by Republican President Richard Nixon. The bill cuts the EPA’s budget to the lowest levels in 25 years, and bars the agency from new regulations on a variety of farm-related activities that account for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

6. Pushes A Paranoid, Paradoxical Policy on Pot. Last month, District of Columbia voted to legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana. But the bill speeding through Congress would bar the District from legalizing pot or reducing any legal penalties associated with it. In contrast, it also blocks the Department of Justice from interferring with state-level marijuana legalization efforts and stops the Drug Enforcement Agency from barring industrial hemp production.

7. And Bites Back At A Bunch of Obama Initiatives. It’s no surprise that the bill doesn’t give any new money for Obamacare, only funds immigration policy through February—when a GOP House and Senate can jointly attack the new White House orders blocking deportation, and other Obama initiatives.

But in what can only be described as a mean-spirited slap, it rolls backs Michelle Obama’s efforts to improve public school lunch nutrition, creating a “hardship” exemption for school districts to avoid buying whole grain products, and it relaxes sodium standands—meaning too much salt—until further “scientific studies.” The bill also contains language to add potatoes to food programs for the poor. Taken together, Republicans are now the party of white bread and potato chips.

2015 Is Not Looking Good

These proposals—which most Democrats obviously have signed off on—show where the GOP is going as they assume a majority in Congress next year. They clearly are the party of coddling bankers, billionaires, boardrooms, denying reproductive rights, avoiding climate change progress, and providing poorer nutrition for kids.

Congress’ approval rating now sits at 13 percent, according to Real Clear Politics. One can ony guess how much lower it will go in coming months. 

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