Jim Hightower: How Congress and Wall Street's Backroom Dealings Left Us Footing the Bill
Congress, which has long been so tied up in a partisan knot by right-wing extremists that it has been unable to move, suddenly sprang loose at the end of the year and put on a phenomenal show of acrobatic lawmaking.
In one big, bipartisan spending bill, our legislative gymnasts pulled off a breathtaking, flat-footed backflip for Wall Street, and then set a dizzying new height record for the amount of money deep-pocketed donors can give to the two major political parties. It was the best scratch-my-back performance you never saw. You and I didn't see it -- because it happened in secret.
The favor was huge -- allowing Wall Street's most reckless speculators to have their losses on risky derivative deals insured by us taxpayers. Yes, such losses were a central cause of the 2008 financial crash and subsequent unholy bank bailout, which lead to passage of the Dodd-Frank reform law, including a provision sparing taxpayers from covering future losses. But with one, compact, 85-line provision inserted deep inside the 1,600-page, trillion-dollar spending bill, Congress did a dazzling flip-flop on that regulation, putting us taxpayers back on the hook for the banksters' high-risk speculation.
In this same spending bill, Congress also used its legislative athleticism to free rich donors (such as Wall Street bankers) from a limit of under $100,000 on the donation that any one of them can give to political parties. In a spectacular gravity-defying stunt, lawmakers flung the limit on these donations to a record-setting 15 times higher than before. So now bankers who are grateful to either party for being able to make a killing on taxpayer-backed deals can give $1.5 million dollars each to the parties.
Perhaps you recall from your high school civics class that neat, one-page flow chart showing the perfectly logical, beautifully democratic process that Congress must go through to pass our laws.
What a bunch of kidders those chart makers were! To see how the sausage is really made, let's take a look at that trillion-dollar budget bill that Congress squeezed out just before Christmas. It was crammed with special corporate favors, such as: reinstating a Bush rule allowing mining giants to explode the tops off ancient Appalachian mountains and then bulldoze the rubble down into the valley below destroying pristine mountain streams; another letting long-haul trucking outfits require their drivers to be on the road more than 11 hours a day and up to 82 hours per week, filling our highways with highballing, sleep-deprived truckers; and cutting $60 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency, freeing up polluters to go unpunished for polluting.
None of these favors had anything to do with that "how-a-bill-becomes-law" flow chart in our civics textbook. No bill was filed, no public hearings, no debate, no vote. Just -- BAM! -- there they were, a thicket of benefits secretly slipped into the 1,600-page budget bill by ... well, by whom? Largely by corporate lobbyists, though they get one of their for-hire congress critters to do the actual dirty deed.
The taxpayer subsidy for Wall Street, for example, was written by Citigroup. The bank's lobbyists then handed the provision to Kansas Republican Kevin Yoder, who slipped it into the bill. Thus, the Wall Street conglomerate that took a $50 billion bailout from us taxpayers just seven years ago to save itself from its own bad deals essentially was allowed to become an unelected, self-serving, do-it-yourself, backroom "lawmaker" to make sure that your and my tax dollars will be there to cover its next mess-up.
And that, boys and girls, is the real flow chart for making our laws. It's always an amazing sight when Wall Street and Congress get together -- especially when they get together out of sight.