By Charles P. Pierce
It may have escaped your attention, what with this week’s revelations that America’s foreign policy took a right turn at Torquemada and didn’t stop until it got to Vlad The Impaler — And it should be said, for the purposes of apt historical parallels, that Vlad used to impale his victims in the same manner in which the CIA apparently fed recalcitrant prisoners — but the Congress is preparing to give away the store. A “bipartisan” deal has been crafted to fund the government through next September. Please forgive any typos in this post, as it is difficult for me to type, having Krazy Glue’d my wallet to my hands.
“This bill fulfills our constitutional duty to fund the government, preventing damage from shutdown politics that are bad for the economy, cost jobs and hurt middle class families,” said Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat, and Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican, in a joint statement. “While not everyone got everything they wanted, such compromises must be made in a divided government. These are the tough choices that we must make to govern responsibly and do what the American people sent us here to do.”
Hang on. I’ll be back in a minute. I am now attaching the wallet to my palms with tenpenny nails.
This deal does a lot of things, many of them horrible. It is a veritable compost heap of Republican goodies. The IRS gets defunded, so that phony “social-welfare” political front groups no longer will be inconvenienced in their paperwork. The EPA takes a huge whack, so that conservative bundlers and the oligarchs whom they bundle no longer will be inconvenienced by people who wish to breathe, and who believe their water should be neither yellow nor flammable. But the real Saturday end of it is a provision that guts a key provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill that was passed so that it would be a little harder in the future for people to wreck most of the economy and then steal what’s left. Specifically, Congress is preparing to open the casino again.
At issue is the “swaps push-out” rule, which requires banks to move derivatives trading out of taxpayer-backed subsidiaries. Derivatives are risky financial instruments that contributed to the 2008 crash. Allowing banks to conduct those trades on the assumption that taxpayers would bail them out if the deals went sour was not only bad for taxpayers; it also raised the value of the trades and thus effectively acted as a subsidy for the banks. Financial institutions, obviously, weren’t thrilled with the new rule. In 2013, lobbyists for Citigroup gave lawmakers a proposal to exempt a wide array of derivatives, and it subsequently appeared in a bill approved by a House committee that year.
Derivatives are what nearly sank the whole thing the last time around. And now, the Congress has decided, in the same kind of “bipartisan” way that brought us the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the Commodity Futures Trading Act during the Clinton Administration, to let these guys gamble with taxpayer money again. This is such a spectacularly bad idea that it’s hard to believe that its supporters didn’t sneak it into the bill the way they did just as a goof, to see what they could get away with, those scamps.
“Hey, Bob. Let’s see if we can get them to pass the Free Smack Subsidy next! Somebody call Luntz and have him think up a name for it. The Opiate Liberation And Personal Freedom Liberty Act Of 2014, or something.”
The arrangement is the result of a “bipartisan compromise” engineered by Mikulski by which Wall Street gets to oil up the roulette wheel again in exchange for increased funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which is supposed to oversee things like derivatives training, and which the incoming, and more radical, Republican congressional majority surely will chloroform entirely the first chance it gets. Meanwhile, things are being arranged to put us all on the hook again for Wall Street’s gambling jones. And Senator Professor Warren, who can see a church by daylight, is having none of it. She rose yesterday to excoriate the covert sellout and, by extension, the people in both parties who connived to bring it about. You want bipartisanship? This is bipartisanship.
“I come to the floor today to ask a fundamental question — who does Congress work for? Does it work for the millionaires, the billionaires, the giant companies with their armies of lobbyists and lawyers? Or does it work for all of us?”
I’m not entirely sure that she has the votes to stop this abomination. People want to go home for Christmas. Everybody’s drunk deeply of the egg nog in the rancid punchbowl of “compromise” for its own sake. Right now, she’s counting on the House to strip it from the bill, but a large portion of the House majority is crazy, and a large portion of the House minority is hiding behind the drapes, so I’m not optimistic. (Nancy Pelosi has gotten ferocious on the issue, though, so we’ll see.) It will be interesting to see if she exercises her right to talk the provision to death against what will be a well-organized counterattack by the Very Serious People who will sing in one voice the praises of “bipartisan” governance against this noisy obstructionist. Nothing in her career so far is as serious a gut check as this one is. The inserted provision strikes at the very heart of everything that made her a senator in the first place. It will be interesting to see how many people have her back.
And this is coming at the same time as her campaign against Antonio Weiss, the Lazard executive who’s the president’s nominee to be Undersecretary of The Treasury for Domestic Finance, something that has given severe agita to the financial press, especially Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times, who’s carried so much water for some of these guys that you could fly him over a forest fire to help put it out. Part of Warren’s problem with Weiss is a going-away goodie he got from Lazard that surprised even my cynical mind. Lazard will pay Weiss a $21 million bonus just for taking the Treasury job, in which he’ll be intimately involved with the industry Weiss is now leaving, however temporarily. How does this not seem to be a form of pre-emptive bribery? Used to be you needed a quo for every quid. And both of these fights together are the best arguments I can think of for why MoveOn and Democracy For America, both of which are trying to dragoon Warren into a quixotic presidential run, should shut the fk up.
Even the shadow of the possibility of a presidential campaign makes it easier to characterize Warren’s positions here as political grandstanding. Oh, look. Here’s Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post to do that very thing.
Speeches like the one Warren gave Wednesday will just fuel chatter about why she should challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton in two years. And she knows it.
Yeah, it’s not that she’s ever been concerned about how the country’s fiscal policy is under the control of the forces that nearly demolished it, or that she understands what the reopening of the casino will mean. It’s all about the “chatter.” Stop it, all of you. She’s right where she belongs. You don’t put a lion in a horse race.