The US House of Representatives passed a $1.1 trillion, 1603-page spending bill late last night, 219-209. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led the fight against passage, asking if Congress was representing Wall Street or representing the people. She said the bill represented “the worst of government for the rich and the powerful”. The bill contains a provision that weakens the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act by easing restrictions on banks, which ultimately contributed to the financial debacle of 2008.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took to the floor to denounce the bill saying members were being blackmailed to pass the measure in the closing hours of the session with the threat of a government shut-down. The bill was passed within 3 hours of the deadline.
The bill contains many provisions impacting millions of people. It includes the Hyde Amendment, which bans spending federal dollars on abortion, and it includes provisions spending $5 million and upwards to $12-15 million more for ineffectual and harmful abstinence-only education. But it also contains level funding for the Teen Pregnancy Initiative which covers comprehensive family planning education at $101 million.
One of the most controversial aspects of the legislation is that it includes language that could result in cuts to pensions for millions of retired workers under the age of 75 years and even minimal cuts to those over 75.. It allows cuts to multi-employer underfunded pensions plans usually sponsored by employers and unions. It allows the plans to cut benefits well before they reach insolvency. The teamsters claim that one of the proposed revisions could save UPS $2 billion. Some pensioners could lose as much as a half to two-thirds of their pension.
This pension cutting provision is supported by both Democrats and Republicans and some unions and employers. AARP and the Pension Rights Center among other advocacy groups opposed it. Karen Friedman, the pension rights center policy director, warned “this sets a precedent for cutting social security and senior employer plans.”
A provision having nothing to do with government spending was included allowing wealthy individuals to increase their contributions to national political party committees from a maximum of $97,200 in 2014 to possibly as much as $777,600. Calculations differ, but the increase is substantial, giving more power, as if they needed it, to wealthy donors. The citizens united Supreme Court decision, allows individuals to give to non-profit independent expenditure campaigns unlimited secret funds. One can argue this provision provides more power to political parties in fighting groups like the Koch brother’s Americans for Prosperity.