News Section: Opinion
Amazing: Congress Finds Time to Stuff Last Second Debt Deal with Pork
It came down to the wire, but Republican lawmakers finally caved as the Thursday deadline to raise the debt ceiling before the United States began defaulting on its payment obligations approached. Republicans in the House passed a hastily-constructed Senate deal and suddenly, a bill that had previously seemed as impossible as pushing mud up a hill went through both chambers and was signed into law in a matter of mere hours. Despite the rush, however, lawmakers still managed to stuff the bill with some pork, before kicking the budget/debt problem down the road for just a few more months.
Late Wednesday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 285-144 to approve a Senate plan to end the government shutdown and raise the debt limit. The bill will finance the government through January 15 and raise the debt limit through February 7. President Obama immediately signed the bill into law.
With The U.S. Treasury department warning earlier that day that it could run out of money to pay U.S. debt obligations within 24 hours, the Senate voted 81-18 earlier in the evening to approve a proposal crafted by the Senate’s Republican and Democratic leaders. The upper chamber took the lead on the matter after the House proved unable to move forward with any resolution on Tuesday.
In the end, Republicans were unsuccessful in achieving any of their stated goals regarding dismantling Obamacare or individual rollbacks in the new health care law, like repealing the individual mandate or ending the tax on medical devices that helps fund the law. A largely uncontested request to strengthen income verification on tax subsidies for those purchasing insurance through exchanges was the only concession made.
The deal will see government employees who were furloughed getting back pay and give the deeply-divided Congress just a few short months to come together on a long-term budget solution before the nation finds itself back in the exact same situation early next year.
As tense as the negotiations got, and as little time as was left to spare, lawmakers somehow still found a way to load it with billions of dollars in special projects. So much for a "clean bill."
Despite the fact that just under half of members of Congress are millionaires and that as federal employees they have access to attractive life insurance policies, they nonetheless routinely vote their colleagues a "death benefit" equal to one year's salary, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. The bill passed Wednesday night included $174,000 for such a benefit to the family of former Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), whose seat was coincidentally won in a special election by Newark Mayor Corrie Booker earlier that same evening.
To add insult to injury, Lautenberg, who died in June, was worth about $60 million. But hey, $60 million isn't what it used to be, so I guess they had to make sure that got slipped in. Otherwise, someone, somewhere may have gone without a summer home. Also, Lauternberg's empire was large enough to be one of the .14 percent wealthiest American estates that are subject to the estate tax that rich people are always griping about. And because he's not the only member of Congress in that exclusive little club, I suppose such gifts help to offset the so-called "death tax" so many of them are always trying unsuccessfully to repeal.
Everyone knows we need to concentrate on our crumbling infrastructure and though Republicans have for some reason been opposed to shovel-ready projects that could put the nation's unemployed to work, while tending to vital national resources, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky got $2.2 billion in additional funding that more than triples the original cost of an approved dam project. It's already been dubbed the Kentucky Kickback, but hey, if it wasn't for McConnell we'd still be waiting for John Boehner to get Republicans to come to their senses.
There are other bumps in agency funding and fees that can be collected. Way down on page 20, there's even another declaration that Congress will forgo their cost of living adjustment next year, which seems like the least they can do considering their inability to fund the government on schedule has already cost the economy billions according to economists. At $174,000, members of Congress are in the top one percent of American salaries even before their considerable wealth is taken into account. I suppose the real test of their selflessness will be when budget negotiations commence and we see their positions on the top tax brackets.