Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Omnibus Could Have Been Worse, But That's Not A Reason To Celebrate It


Paul Ryan sold the Omnibus by promising the radicals in his conference a much harsher attitude-- complete with much harsher actions against working families-- next year, which is-- buried beneath the silken, inspiring tones-- trumpeted in the very slick video he released yesterday (above). It looks like every member of the Freedom Caucus voted NO anyway, even if it was just a carefully choreographed little dance that was done for the sake of whomever is taken in by this kind of bullshit. Interestingly, of the last 2 omnibus bills, Boehner actually got more Republicans on board than Ryan managed to yesterday (162 and 166) to his 150. Ryan's folly passed 316-113 and more Democrats (166) than Republicans (150) voted for it. That was swell of Pelosi. This is what she instructed her troops to vote for, according to the bearded Ryan:
1. Repeals the antiquated oil export ban. This provision would end the 1975 ban on the export of American oil. Domestic energy production is booming in the United States, and lifting the ban will help create jobs, grow our economy, and promote greater exploration of our natural resources.

2. Increases resources for our military. The arbitrary spending cuts in the sequester have depleted the resources our armed forces need to carry out their mission. This bill restores funding for our military to ensure our troops can confront today’s challenges and defeat ISIL.

3. Strengthens the Visa Waiver Program to protect the homeland. The Visa Waiver Program presents one of the most urgent threats to our homeland from radical Islamic terrorism. This agreement includes the House-passed bill to tighten the security requirements under the program. It would also deny visa waiver status to any individual who has traveled to certain terrorist hotspots, including Syria and Iraq, in the last five years.

4. Prohibits new funding for Obamacare. The bill contains no new funding for Obamacare and continues to prevent a taxpayer bailout of Obamacare’s risk corridor program.

5. Prevents the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to American soil. The bill prohibits funds from being used to transfer terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States, and prohibits the construction or acquisition of a facility in the U.S. to house detainees.

6. Blocks EPA overreach. The bill contains no funding for new or expanded EPA programs, holding the agency to its lowest funding levels since 2008 and its lowest staffing levels since 1989.

7. Reins in the IRS. The IRS continues to act with impunity against the interests of hardworking taxpayers. This bill freezes most IRS operations and maintains budget cuts necessary to ensure this agency roots out wasteful spending and redirects resources to serving the American people. In addition, the tax extenders package also includes a measure to prohibit the IRS from unfairly imposing the gift tax on contributions to non-profit groups, which have historically been exempt, to encourage donations to these important organizations.

8. Maintains strong protections for life. 'The bill maintains important pro-life provisions, including the Hyde Amendment, and prohibits taxpayer funding for abortion. It also includes a ban on FDA approval for genetically modifying human embryos and cuts funding for a program involved in abortion-related activities, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), by 7 percent.

9. Honors our commitment to our veterans. The bill ensures our veterans receive their much-deserved health benefits, speeds up VA claims processing, prioritizes modernizing the VA’s electronic health care record system, and tightens oversight of construction projects.

10. Provides critical health care benefits for 9/11 first responders. More than 30,000 first responders continue to suffer from injuries or illnesses sustained during the 9/11 attacks. The bill contains a bipartisan measure to permanently reauthorize critical health care benefits for these brave men and women-- and it does so in a fiscally responsible way.

11. Repeals harmful labeling requirements on American meat. The bill repeals mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements, ensuring that our economy does not suffer more than $1 billion in trade penalties.

Oh, and domestic spying... somehow Ryan forgot to mention that one, although Justin Amash has been screaming about it all week... at the top of his lungs. No one really believes most politicians on the far right have believed in the Constitution since slavery was abolished but they like making noises about it when it suits their purposes. Jenna McLaughlin, writing for The Intercept outlined how Ryan's Omnibus will push the whole Orwellian Big Brother World to new and dangerous heights. Yes, much worse than we thought it would be, too.
The legislation the House passed on Friday morning is a thinly-disguised surveillance bill that would give companies pathways they don’t need to share user data related to cyber threats with the government-- while allowing the government to use that information for any purpose, with almost no privacy protections.

Because Speaker of the House Paul Ryan slipped the provision into the massive government omnibus spending bill that had to pass-- or else the entire government would have shut down-- it was doomed to become law. (This post has been updated to reflect the vote, which was 316 to 113.)

The text of the bill-- now knowns as the Cybersecurity Act of 2015, formerly known as CISA-- wasn’t released until shortly after midnight Wednesday morning, giving members of Congress essentially no time to do anything about it.

The bill removes a restriction on direct information sharing with the National Security Agency and the Pentagon; eliminates a restriction on the government’s use of that information for surveillance activities; allows law enforcement to use the information to prosecute any and all crimes; and leaves it up to the individual agencies to scrub personally identifying information when they feel like it.

...The House Homeland Security Committee chaired by Rep. McCaul, R-Tex., had proposed a series of privacy protections from a previous House version of the cyber bill, but they were stricken from the new version that emerged from the Speaker’s office.

“The bill is all the worst parts” of the different cyber security bills negotiated in recent months, Nathan White, senior legislative manager for Access Now, told The Intercept. “It was negotiated in secret…it’s a sneaky process they’ve used.”

Because of the last-minute timing, members of Congress “are not even going to know what they’re passing,” White said. “We don’t have time to get an informed vote, they’re pulling a fast one on the Senate.”

And the White House is reportedly on board. According to a leaked document published by Dustin Volz of Reuters, titled “Summary administration priorities for CISA”, the White House’s priorities line up with the new version of the bill-- despite the fact that the administration threatened a veto over very similar legislation in 2013.

According to several technologists, information sharing isn’t a real solution to preventing cyberattacks. The best defense is better cyber hygiene. “When you’ve got an epidemic, the answer is you should be washing your hands every time you use the bathroom. It’s just not a sexy thing to say,” Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation told The Intercept last January following President Obama’s State of the Union address, which focused heavily on cybersecurity.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., warned that the bill would “accomplish little more than increased unwarranted surveillance of US persons, sharing private information with prosecutors, and feeding the NSA dragnet.”

“This ‘cybersecurity’ bill was a bad bill when it passed the Senate and it is an even worse bill today,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “Americans deserve policies that protect both their security and their liberty. This bill fails on both counts. Cybersecurity experts say CISA will do little to prevent major hacks and privacy advocates know that this bill lacks real, meaningful privacy protections,” Wyden wrote in a press release.

Overall, there was never much hope among the conservative groups. “We certainly would have liked more time to bring this issue to the attention of libertarians and conservatives. Unfortunately, the way the final bill was conferenced-- keeping Chairman McCaul out of any substantive discussions and disregarding many of his concerns around the reconciliation process-- moved it quicker than we anticipated,” wrote Ryan Hagemann of the Niskanen Center in an e-mail to The Intercept.
The Democratic leadership hacks backing Ryan on the Omnibus said thing similar to what Harry Reid tweeted this morning: "Our omnibus goals were: roll back sequester, parity in funding for Pentagon and middle class, and keep off poison pill riders. We did that." Sure, sure... it was a great Democratic victory, just like a deranged Rush Limbaugh claimed Thursday. David Dayen, writing for the Fiscal Times reminds us not to weep for Wall Street... the banksters were well-taken care of by the policticians they've bought. He reminds us that "Bank lobbyists had a giant wish list of riders to attach to the must-pass package. They hoped to roll back Dodd-Frank regulations, deliver a mortal blow to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, allow investment advisors to continue to rip off their clients, and much more. None of that panned out." But remember, that isn't the right frame this should be used to examine how well the banksters are doing in the Paul Ryan Congress.
We’re talking about whether or not to roll back regulations, not about whether the current regulations are adequate or if they need to be strengthened. As William Cohan reports in Politico, bankers are simply not worried that this will shift anytime soon, regardless of who wins the White House next year [since they discount the chance of Bernie overcoming the Wall Street-funded Clinton Machine]. Banks are doing just fine at preventing additional regulation, even if they occasionally lose on deregulation (and not all the time: A highway bill rider allows more banks to take a “rural lender” designation and avoid mortgage rules).

Second, people are ignoring all the wins in the year-end package for Wall Street. For example, lifting the oil export ban bails out the domestic oil industry, which has been on the verge of collapse for a year, with falling prices and a massive domestic oversupply. Opening a new revenue source for these companies tosses them a lifeline — as well as their financiers.

Oil exploration company defaults are a big part of the crackup in high-yield junk bonds. “Almost a quarter of that stuff is in the energy sector,” said Marcus Stanley of Americans for Financial Reform. While federal regulators did admirable work in forcing banks to stop issuing these risky corporate loans, banks still helped to arrange and distribute the bond deals. They’re part of the underwriting pipeline, and when investors get nervous and pull out, banks can get stuck with some exposure.

It’s one of the effects of Glass-Steagall repeal, actually: Megabanks’ role as dealers distributing securities means that they can face a hit when the music stops. But lifting the oil export ban bails them out.

There are also gifts for banks in the other half of this year-end deal, the so-called “tax extenders.” That makes permanent something called the “active financing exception,” which allows corporations to avoid taxes on earned financial income, like dividends or interest, if those profits are deemed to be earned offshore. The biggest beneficiaries of this are Wall Street banks, and their accountants have all sorts of tricks to claim that financial profits were earned overseas. This permanent tax break effectively legalizes offshore tax havens.

Another tax extender loophole eliminates capital gains taxes on startup buyouts. This makes acquisitions of small startup companies much more attractive, and mergers and acquisitions happen to be a huge Wall Street profit center, as the banks organize and underwrite the deals.

...Finally, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) gave banks a huge windfall yesterday when it finalized margin rules for derivatives trades. The initial version of this rule would have forced banks to post billions of dollars in up-front collateral for these trades. Now, when the deals are between affiliates of the same global parent, only one side has to post collateral.

As Americans for Financial Reform explained in a letter opposing the rule, collateral requirements “provide a buffer against the kind of rapid unanticipated changes in exposures that can occur during situations of financial stress.” But their opposition, as well as Elizabeth Warren’s, did not stop the CFTC.

This will make it harder to unwind systemically important financial institutions if they run into trouble, as a subsidiary with uncollateralized exposures cannot be sold off to avoid failure. This can spread through and threaten the entire financial system, as it did in 2008. “The lack of initial margin… creates a ticking time bomb,” said Better Markets CEO Dennis Kelleher in a statement condemning the CTFC’s action.

Federal lobbying records show that Goldman Sachs and Citigroup were among the biggest companies pushing for this margin rule. And they got what they wanted. So while the idea that banks have no clout in Washington makes for a good story, it is lacking in any factual basis. On a list of winners and losers in our political system, the general public still falls far below Wall Street executives.

Zoe Lofgren who was complain so bitterly about domestic spying, voted against the package. So did some of the best progressives in Congress, like Raul Grijalva, Keith Ellison, Mark Pocan and Ted Lieu. Others weighed it differently and went along. One of the progressives with the best record, Donna Edwards, explained in a letter to Maryland constituents why she bit the bullet and voted YES.
Today’s omnibus legislation is a bipartisan compromise, and is therefore far from perfect. It is certainly not the bill I would have written, as I am deeply concerned that it ends the ban on crude oil exports, includes the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), provides no financial assistance for Puerto Rico, and further erodes disclosure on political spending requirements.

However, it does accomplish several important tasks for Maryland and the American people. Namely, it avoids another disastrous Republican government shutdown right before the holidays, makes vital investments for working families, ensures federal employees receive a long-overdue pay increase, and provides critical funding for numerous projects in Maryland. The package includes almost none of the horrendous new policy riders Republicans threatened to include that would have devastated women’s access to health and reproductive care, environmental protections, and net neutrality. The bill also avoids a litany of giveaways to numerous Republican special interests.

I continue to hold out hope that Republicans will end their ongoing practice of creating one manufactured crisis after another and work with Democrats to create jobs, strengthen the middle class, and invest in America’s future.
Yeah... it could have been worse. Is there a solution? Of course: electing fewer conservatives and more progressives. You can help do that here. Funny how the DNC managed to so thoroughly distract progressives from much Omnibus analysis and action with Clinton's and Wasserman Schultz's nasty little attack on Bernie's campaign early yesterday morning.

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At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Robert Dagg Murphy said...

What about social security? We get nothing but an interest rate increase and no cost of living increase for many years. More military junk. Politics at work. Bribe taker village.

At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Robert Dagg Murphy said...

Knowledge and science will make politics irrelevant. Our Star Sun is showering us with more energy than we can ever spend. Whatever needs to be done can be done. Merry Christmas to all.


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