(Update, 12/14: Make that the entire Congress. A link to the gory details is below.)
They come not to abolish pain, but to inflict even more of it.
Congress just held its annual holiday party for its high-rolling donors. This year's cutesy theme was The Cromnibus That Stole Christmas. Yet again, they reprised their Scrooge role, robbing the poor and giving to the rich. And boy, were they ever sneaky about it this time around. As the whole world was reeling over revelations that Torture R Us, our leaders hastily wrapped up an Economy-sized giant rectal feeding tube in shiny paper, bestowed it upon a reeling public, and told us to "crom" it up our asses. They robbed pension funds, they defanged an already toothless Dodd-Frank, and they made political bribery even sleazier by increasing ten-fold the allowable individual donations to the Duopoly.
And then the "People's House" packed it in and started going home for Christmas to collect more spoils from their grateful political donors, who should be cheery that their outsized clout has once again put taxpayers on the hook for the risky bets guaranteed to cause another financial implosion sooner or later. The upper-crusty Senate is expected to rubber-stamp the deal shortly*, in order to continue the beatings and to beat the get-out-of-town rush.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who only a year ago was urging her Democratic caucus to "embrace the suck" by throwing millions of long-term unemployed under the bus so as to keep the government humming, pivoted back to full populist mode yesterday, trying to outdo Elizabeth Warren in the anti-bankster rhetoric department.
Barack Obama, practicing for his upcoming star turn as post-Clinton triangulator, played the part of the Uncloseted Republican, going into full court press for Wall Street. He rallied his whole cabinet of Citigroup lobbyists to twist the same arms that had so lately fiercely acquiesced to Citigroup's dictating of the actual bill. Once you've put out for Wall Street, it gets increasingly hard to say No to Wall Street.
It was Good Cop-Bad Cop Kabuki theater at its most nauseating.
The mainstream media, though, are cheering because it was essentially a very good show, chock-full of suspense and identity politics. The New York Times has this glowing review:
The House narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion spending package on Thursday that would fund most government operations for the fiscal year after a rancorous debate that reflected the new power held by Republicans and the disarray among Democrats in the aftermath of the midterm elections.
The accord was reached just hours before the midnight deadline, in a 219-206 vote, amid the last-minute brinkmanship and bickering that has come to mark one of Congress’s most polarized — and least productive — eras. The legislation now heads to the Senate, which is expected to pass it in the coming days.
The split in the Democratic Party dramatically burst into view when Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader and one of President Obama’s most loyal supporters, broke with the administration over a provision in the bill that would roll back regulation of the Dodd-Frank Act, which Ms. Pelosi said was a giveaway to big banks whose practices helped fuel the Great Recession. She spoke on the House floor in the early afternoon, expressing her strong opposition to the bill.As much as I believe that Pelosi's impassioned speech was cynically timed to provide some staged Shakespearean conflict with the paramour (Obama) who then publicly spurned her, for the Times to characterize the Democrats' new-found populism as "disarray" is a bit rich. The Gray Lady apparently likes her little marital spats to be decorous. The Gray Lady has reduced the shoving of a giant torture tube up America's butt to nothing but a little bickering among friends.
Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were pressed to make a furious round of phone calls to try to persuade wavering Democrats, while House Speaker John A. Boehner worked to get more Republican votes.
Infuriated loyalists make the perfect targets for new rounds of Democratic fund-raising appeals. "Embracing the suck" cost them the mid-terms, so now it's back to the pretend-populism cycle again. I'm already getting emails urging me to show my solidarity with multimillionaire Nancy by throwing them some cash.The public support of the sweeping spending bill by the White House — which came just as Ms. Pelosi was making her speech on the House floor opposing it — was a rare public break with the minority leader and infuriated many of her loyalists.
In a more than three-hour, closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Thursday night, many of the party’s more liberal members tried to rally support against the bill. The moment, they said, was one of conscience, and a chance for Democrats to demonstrate their allegiance with the middle class.
Standing their ground is a little late, but at least it was a "chance for Democrats" to pander to the base by pretending to be on their side. It was an "opportunity" for them to be seen as pro-middle class, even though it was only a year ago that they joined with the GOP to impoverish millions of jobless people and compromise over cuts to the food stamp program. Those were the days when they thought they could win the mid-terms by simply out-fundraising the Republicans. They won't be rolled so easily again. Because veering to the right and openly rolling the American people comes with a price.“We’ve got to stand up for principle at some point, or they’re going to kick us even more next year when they have a bigger majority,” said Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon. “They know we will stand our ground on principle in the future and not roll us so easily again.”
In an emergency gathering, Democrats also expressed anger at Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, at what they saw as the president’s undercutting of Ms. Pelosi and other progressives by coming out in support of the deal so early in the day. But Ms. Pelosi ultimately gave her members the freedom to vote how they wanted. “I’m giving you the leverage to do what you have to do,” she said. “We have enough votes to show them never to do this again.”She showed them, all right. Because it was a show. She dog-whistled as much when she told them to go ahead and vote for their Wall Street donors if that's what they needed to do. Moreover, the fix was already in, so a "nay" vote would look good on paper, if not in reality. Pelosi is like the abused wife who tells her beater that next time, she'll call the cops. So there.
The final vote was a blow to Ms. Pelosi, the liberal wing of the party and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who led the charge against the Dodd-Frank rollback. Mr. Boehner built a coalition of 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats, a rare achievement for a Congress that has often operated along strict party lines. Congress also passed a two-day funding measure to give the Senate time to pass the legislation.This is the part where "the base" gets all riled up and their wallets get all opened up. And the bipartisan vote is anything but "rare." It is, in fact, quite common and well done to a crisp. When it comes to funding wars, the surveillance state, the banks and the corporate welfare queens, these clowns are always reaching across the aisle and slapping each other on the back while they slap the rest of us upside the head.
* The final vote tally is here
And here's my published comment to a piece by Gail Collins, suggesting that we discuss the Cromnibus at our weekend holiday dinner parties:
We don't need a dinner party to discuss the Cromnibus from Hell. Who has the appetite? What this occasion demands is a national wake, because we're already spectators at our own funeral.
That Wall Street and billionaires own the government is a given. But our "reps" aren't even bothering to pretend any more. To me, the cruelest part of this plutocratic manifesto is that it allows multi-employer pension plans to slash the benefits of 1.5 million retirees. The irony is that many of these endangered pension plans were made that way by the same reckless Wall Street Casino behavior that Congress and the White House now want to restore and reward. Instead of another Glass-Steagall Act, the bad guys get richer and the workers get screwed.
The politicians we elect to represent us couldn't make their allegiance any plainer if they rubbed our noses in their effluent.
What a week to be an American citizen. First we learn about the torture done in our names to people in other countries. Then we learn that even more economic torture will be foisted upon us.
We call it torture -- our leaders call it patriotism. We call it graft and corruption. They call it compromise and a victory for bipartisanship. We say we're mad as hell. They say we all have to have some skin in their rigged game, and to stop questing after unicorns.
They say change takes time and patience. We say that they'll continue in Gordon Gekko-Torquemada mode at their own peril.