Friday, December 12, 2014

The Worm Has Turned!

There is no question that over the past six years the Republican Party has been successful in thwarting President Obama’s agenda. By all accounts they have turned “obstruction” into an art form.

When the Republicans secured control of both houses of congress in the mid-terms my concern was that Democrats might learn a lesson from their Republican counterparts. The lesson being that obstruction works. What is good for the goose… Yesterday my concerns were legitimized.

Yesterday, in one of the most bizarre scenes that I have ever witnessed in politics, the House passed a $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill to fund the government. The reason that this was so strange was the manner in which the battle lines were drawn. Instead of the usual partisan bickering along party lines you had President Obama joining Speaker Boehner and Harry Reid in lobbying for passage of the bill while Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren joined a host of Tea Party types in calling for its defeat. Strange bedfellows indeed!

It seems that the White House along with House and Senate leadership had cobbled together the bill without consulting their respective caucuses. At the last minute Republicans added a few little pieces to the bill that had nothing to do with funding the government. One line increased the level of contributions that an individual could make to a political campaign from $32,420 to $324,200. The other stripped out a provision in the Dodd-Frank banking bill that removed FDIC protection from the banking industries risky derivative trading operations.

Trading derivatives is risky business. Many call it “gambling” not “investing.” Prior to the recession banks engaged in these activities secure in the knowledge that they were federally insured. But when these trades became toxic in 2006-2007 they took the banking industry, the economy and the government down with them. Dodd-Frank said never again. The legislation allowed for derivative trading but banks would no longer be backed by the FDIC. Pressured by banking industry lobbyists to reinsert the protection, Republicans put the language back in and said that if the Democrats wanted a spending bill it would have to include the derivative provision.

The president was willing to swallow this bitter pill because the bill included the funding he needed to put his immigration reform measures into affect. Boehner knew he didn’t have enough votes among his caucus because the right wing wanted nothing to do with the “imperialist president’s’ executive orders on immigration. So the Speaker, fearing his party would be blamed for another costly government shutdown, pleaded with Pelosi to whip her caucus into helping pass the bill. Pelosi was having none of it. She was incensed that Republicans had inserted the derivative language into the bill and furious with the president for signing off on it. She took to the well of the House to publically chastise the president for going along with what she referred to as a “blackmail bill; making it clear that she would prefer a government shutdown to succumbing to the blackmail.

While all this was going on in the House, Senator Elizabeth Warren was doing her best impersonation of Ted Cruz in the Senate. Warren is to the far left what Ted Cruz is to the far right. A staunch supporter of banking reform Warren went to the well of the Senate twice to make impassioned pleas to House Democrats to withstand the pressure from Wall Street and vote against bill; even if it meant shutting down the government.

Eventually 57 Democrats joined 162 Republicans to pass the bill and avoid a shutdown. The Senate followed by approving a two day extension of current funding and will take up the full bill next week. With Warren leading the liberal opposition in the senate, passage is no sure thing.

We are accustomed to watching the conflict between moderate Republicans and the radical right wing of the party. Yesterday Republicans sat in the peanut gallery as a stunning role reversal took place...Democrats Warren and Pelosi ralling the far left in clear defiance of party moderates and the president.

Democrats have learned that voters reward obstructionist politicians who stick to their guns…no matter what. Republicans taught them well. Elections didn’t matter to Republicans in 2008 or 2012. Why should they matter now?

That strategy may prove beneficial to the Democrats.

But I’m not sure how it benefits the country.

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