You’ve probably heard about the bipartisan deal between Paul Ryan (a Republican) and Kelly Ayotte (a Democrat). I’ve already spouted my mouth about the deal, calling it an act of class warfare, exposing these two players behind the deal and some of its provisions (at times I tweeted quotes from articles here and here):
The deal itself is deeply disturbing and an affront of an attack on the working and middle classes. The bill itself is written with so much legalese, its hard, if not impossible to understand*, but that may be part of the point (and why 67% of OpenCongress users support it) However, the agreement itself passed with overwhelming bipartisan support: 162 Democrats and 160 Republicans. Of Maryland’s seven apportioned representatives, only two voted against the agreement: Steny Hoyer and Andy Harris while five voted for it: Chris Van Hollen, Elijah Cummings, John K. Dulaney, Donna Edwards and John Sarbanes. Interestingly, while Hollen said he was ‘upset’ by the deal, he voted for it, while Hoyer, the House Minority Whip, “strongly criticized reports that the budget negotiators are considering reducing federal employee pension contributions to help offset the sequester [presumably since his]…suburban Washington district is home to a large concentration of federal employees” as noted by Politico. However, in an interview with The Hill on the day the bill passed, Hoyer told the publication that while in his view, the bill “does not deal with the fundamental issue of long-term fiscal stability,” it “needed to pass…[and is] better than the alternative. But it is an extraordinary missed opportunity…[for] a comprehensive bill.” This means that Hoyer opposed the bill due to its unwholesome nature, but not necessarily because of any provisions of the bill, which is no surprise since a number of his top contributors have included big businesses like Exelon, Comcast, Northrop Grumman and Boeing.
The final congressmember who voted for the agreement Sarbanes I knew about first hand. In an email I received (for some reason I’m on his mailing list), he defended the budget deal in a message titled ‘Sarbanes Standard – My thoughts on the budget agreement’ [I bolded certain parts for emphasis]:
Yesterday, I joined a majority of my colleagues in approving a bipartisan agreement that, if passed by the Senate, will end months of budget wrangling and avoid a government shutdown over the next two years. This bill was the result of extensive discussions between Democratic and Republican budget negotiators from the House and Senate and it offers some welcome relief from the gridlock and dysfunction that sadly have become a hallmark of Washington.
We’ve long known that the sequester’s indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts are an irresponsible and inefficient way to budget.** In fact, sequestration has been so damaging to our economy that even some Republicans are now calling for its repeal. In a first step in this direction, the proposed budget compromise rolls back $63 billion in cuts that would have taken effect over the next two years and provides more flexibility for federal agencies struggling with the $85 billion of sequestration cuts that remain in place. This holds the promise that important programs like Head Start can be preserved over the next couple of years. The agreement also avoids harmful cuts to earned benefit programs that serve children, seniors, and the disabled.
There are certainly components of the deal that gave me pause. I was disappointed that federal employees took another hit in this package, which finances some of the sequester relief by cutting $6 billion from pension benefits for people who choose public service in the future. For the last few years, our dedicated public servants have been used as a deficit reduction piggy bank, contributing more than $114 billion in savings through pay freezes and increased pension contributions. It is unfair to repeatedly target federal employees and I believe there were better ways to raise an equivalent amount of revenue.
I was also very disappointed about a number of priorities that were not included in the bill.* Republican opposition to extending long term unemployment benefits will have an immediate and detrimental impact on 1.3 million job-seekers who will lose their benefits on December 28th. Though the job market has been improving, the economy is still not working as it should for average Americans. The damage will continue over the first half of next year when benefits will be cut off for an additional 1.9 million people looking for work. I plan to join many of my colleagues in urging that we retroactively restore these unemployment benefits in January.
The agreement is also silent on the critical investments that are necessary to get our country back on track. Our roads, public transit and water infrastructure are in desperate need of repair. Our commitment to education, research and scientific innovation is inadequate. These investments create jobs and there are responsible ways to pay for them. For starters, we should eliminate corporate subsidies for the oil and gas industry. In addition, our tax code is littered with special interest loopholes for the Wall Street crowd and those should be repealed.
Unfortunately, big money campaign donors and high powered lobbyists relentlessly defend these loopholes. Until we reform the way our political campaigns are financed [link has been removed as to not promote his message] so that every-day Americans have a real voice that can be heard in the policy-making process, these abuses will continue.
There is so much more work to be done. But in a year of frustrating political gridlock and partisan bickering, even modest progress is welcome. My hope is that this agreement will set the stage for additional cooperation on some of the tremendous challenges we face in the coming year.***
Happy holidays to you and yours!
John P. Sarbanes
Much of what he says is littered with the ‘promise’ of liberal reformism. Lest us not forget who his career funders are:
His current donors are very similar. In addition, all of his PAC money seems to come from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, the country’s “largest organization of food and nutrition professionals” which OpenSecrets considers a business PAC. Overall, a sliver of the business community seems to support him, but none of the big name funders unless you count the $250 he received from Wells Fargo. Instead of this boiling down to his funding, which his funding likely reflects, there is something deeper. His position on the side of liberal reformism, in favor of the agreement, is benefiting the business community. Just looking at OpenCongress’s list only seven oppose it and many more support it**** To be exact, 96 separate groups support the proposal ranging from:
- the business advocacy group called the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- trade association of the beverage industry (American Beverage Association)
- trade association of the natural gas industry (American Gas Association)
- trade association for the airlines industry (Airlines for America)
- one of the most powerful business groups which has cozied up to Obama while being his “most important ally in the business community” (Business Roundtable)
- trade association for financial institutions who have their hands in the retail lending and loan markets (Consumer Bankers Association)
- trade association for the corn refining industry (Corn Refiners Association)
- nuclear industry lobbying group (Nuclear Energy Institute)
- trade association of the telecommunications industry (United States Telecom Association)
- a seemingly powerful real estate interest group (Real Estate Roundtable)
- trade association for the country’s beer distributors (National Beer Wholesalers Association)
This is only a small sampling of all of those who support the proposal. Sarbanes’s role in supporting this deal seems to remind me of what I read about James Madison in Charles Beard’s classic book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, and also what I’ve read so far in William Hogeland’s Founding Finance: How Debt, Speculation, Foreclosures, Protests, and Crackdowns Made Us a Nation. Madison was not part of the economic elite at the time, but he helped to create a system that would coordinate their interests, in a federal system, in opposition to egalitarian populist uprisings of the time which were gaining strength on a state level, threatening such elite.***** Sarbanes is a sort of similar position as he has very low net worth, but he is supporting and pushing a proposal that would benefit the business community. This may be a horrible example, but regardless of that, there is one main point. That is the Sarbanes betrayal of the working class of Maryland and the nation as a whole. Instead of taking a noble stand by supporting the 32 Democrats who voted against the deal (along with 62 Republicans), he decided to vote for the bill, which increases the stakes of the class war that capitalistic billionaires such as Warren Buffet and George Soros have warned of and pushed for menial liberal reforms to ‘solve,’ and points to a failed understanding that inherently capitalism is the crisis.
*In some future article I may break this down for people to understand but from what I’ve heard, it is not good.
*** Despite his “disappointment” and “pause” with parts of the agreement, he defends it, almost reaffirming when Paul Ryan and Harry Reid, each in their different way, called for specific cuts to ‘solve’ the budgetary ‘crisis’ and avert a ‘grand bargain’ which President Obama has spoken of time and time again. Interestingly, his letter could have easily been changed to advocate against the agreement, but he did not do so.
**** Three groups which deal with sustainable food and are opposed to genetically-modified food for good reason (iEat Green, Organic Consumers Association and Food Democracy Now!), two big union groups (National Education Association and AFL-CIO), along with two reactionary groups (Americans for Limited Government and the Family Research Council). Of these groups, none seem to have given to Sarbanes recently, which even doesn’t include the AFL-CIO.
***** This is probably a piss-poor description of the time, and misses A LOT of stuff, but I promise to write about this more in detail later. In the mean time, this section of my article in Dissident Voice which I still question, is a valid one for some background:
“There have been intermittent protests throughout history against greed…in the 1750s and 1790s [there were protests which had]…an integral role in the nation’s founding. William Hoegland writes, “Amid horrible depressions and foreclosure crises, from the 1750′s through the 1790′s, ordinary people closed debt courts, rescued debt prisoners, waylaid process servers, boycotted foreclosure actions, etc.” Hoegland continues that while these people were “legally barred from voting and holding office… they used their power of intimidation to pressure their legislatures for debt relief and popular monetary policies” and had “high hopes for American independence” since they helped “enable[e]… the Declaration of Independence.” This wave included what was called Shay’s Rebellion by the elites, which took place in 1786 in “western Massachusetts [where farmers]… marched on the state’s armory in Springfield to reverse regressive finance policies that had again plunged ordinary people into debt peonage and foreclosure while bailing out rich creditors.” Eventually this rebellion was crushed but resistance continued. In 1794 people were angry once again, so they “took over the militia and debt-court system throughout western Pennsylvania and western counties of neighboring states, flew their own flag, and tried to secede from the United States and form an economically egalitarian country”; they were eventually crushed by federal troops.