The US Budget Deal is atrocious for progressives, and the GOP base
Dec 13, 2014

The US Budget Deal is atrocious for progressives, and the GOP base

The 2014 US midterm elections were a massive win for the GOP and, rightly or wrongly, gave them a mandate to act on the issues they campaigned upon. However, the big new budget bill is drawing controversy over something few GOP supporters are going to have thought was core to their election mandate: loosening restrictions on investment firms doing derivatives training, and a ten fold increase in allowable campaign donations. 

Appealing to the base was never the point, of course. On the derivatives side, it is the pay off to Wall Street, and all the millions of dollars they just spent on both sides, but particularly the Republicans. This is the reason those millions were spent. The new Congress hasn't even been sworn in yet, but the Republicans are already making sure that the first thing they do is reward their financial backers, and who cares really if this has nothing to do with the mandate they received from the American people. The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, passed by Democrats after the Great Recession, is far from perfect, but for the most part it's attempt to reign in the kinds of crazy financial engineering from Wall Street that underpinned the recession are commendable. This is a move to partially roll it back. 

As for the order of magnitude increase in the individual political contribution increase from $32,400 to $324,000, this is something that both sides are more or less happy with. The system in its current state operate by funnelling huge amounts of money from the rich and the special interest into the political process (in exchange for favours like the change in derivatives law mentioned above). Republicans do it but so do the Democrats. Of course, with the SuperPAC system, huge amounts of money get to flow in regardless, but this allows more to flow a little easier, and also flow through the establishment political groups easier opposed to the putatively at arms length away that the SuperPACs are supposed to be. 

However, the GOP base largely doesn't like the enormous amounts of money in politics either, it is one of those points where progressives can find common ground. This happens despite the view of the base because the base doesn't matter nearly as much as entrenching the system does. Obama and some Democrats do use this issue as a political talking point, but while attacking the system rhetorically, they also make use of it (I can't really oppose this, putting themselves at a disadvantage would be silly). At the end of the day, though, the nice rhetoric is going to get lost in the reality of a system that is become increasingly entrenched in big money politics. 

There are a few riders intended more for the base that don't come about as a payoff to a financial interest. They effectively block marijuana legalization in DC (against the wishes of the people as expressed through ballot initiative). And they cut funding to the environmental protection agency which fits both bases: the populist GOP base hates the EPA and approves of cutting it, but so does a range of special interests who wants environmental regulation as lax as possible. 

It is interesting that the GOP has worked to form a long deal, funding the government until next September. Effectively what happens is that all the spending levels and the like continue at previously negotiated levels, just with these different riders attached. In previous years since the Democrats lost the Senate in 2010, there have been a series of pretty contentious showdowns with the GOP effectively putting as hostage both the funding of the government and defaulting when the government hits its debt ceiling. The idea was to force substantial spending cuts, including entitlements like Social Security, from the Democrats. This led to the whole business of the sequester which eventually fizzled, largely because even when Obama offered an enormous amount of concessions I and many Democrats opposed, the GOP still couldn't take yes for an answer. 

While it is a lame duck Congress at the moment, the Republicans could easily have opted for a shorter term deal and push the big concessions shortly after taking Congress. Instead, they have opted for the timing that effectively allows for one big showdown halfway through the final two year stint of Obama's presidency and will lay the groundwork and framing for the 2016 presidential battle. 

I think this is good for both sides. For someone on the left like me, I think this tactic is good because I think it will lessen the severity of the concessions the Republicans will demand, that it won't be some enormous Grand Bargain that sets the structure of entitlements for the next generation. It will be a much smaller package of spending cuts and other reforms that will be demand that might hurt, but won't hurt as the kinds of options that were floating around during the Sequester period. In other words, punting to next September is really a punt to the next president. For the right, this is a good tactic as while some may ideologically wish for a bigger win, they are correct to think that the public does not and generally did not take too kindly to them holding the government funding and debt as hostage. A framing in 2016 where they tried to spending cuts by playing a game of chicken with Obama in his last year is not a framing that is particularly kind to them. 

The one thing not decided is the big immigration fight. That one got punted until February and will undoubtably be e big public showdown between Democrats and Republicans for this year. 

Regardless of this political calculus, the earlier issues still slip in. They may hit the status quo button, but things like the changes to the financial markets, changes to campaign finance laws, these happen regardless. 

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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