Last-Minute Changes Could Derail Spending Bill
Policy + Politics

Last-Minute Changes Could Derail Spending Bill

  • Pelosi says “no” to increasing personal campaign contributions to $776,000.
  • The move compounds the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
  • Reinstating risky banking assets, like derivatives, is another issue for dems.

An omnibus spending bill that funds the government through much of next year came under fire from Democrats and campaign finance reform organizations on Wednesday, after it was found to contain controversial policy riders, including one that would strip away many limits on the amount of money wealthy donors can give to political parties and another lifting the ban on risky derivatives trading by government-insured banks.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the top Democrat in the House of Representatives said she objects to both the campaign finance rider and the provision that makes changes to the Dodd-Frank law. The latter loosens some restrictions from the 2010 Wall Street reform bill that apply to banks insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, which many Democrats believe contributed to the financial crisis and subsequent Great Recession.

“These provisions are destructive to middle class families and to the practice of our democracy,” she said. “We must get them out of the omnibus package.”


Passing a bill to allow a massive infusion of private cash to national political parties without any public debate or discussion could further damage the public’s regard for Congress, which is already at historic lows. The argument that money buys influence, and that the average voter’s voice is not being heard, would be much stronger.

Pelosi said the measures “must” be removed from the omnibus spending bill – creating serious last-minute questions about whether the bill can pass before the government runs out of spending authority and shuts down after midnight Thursday night.

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The problem is that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had been expected to need some Democratic support to pass the bill: A portion of his conference objects to his refusal to immediately cut off funding to enforce President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform. How many of those members will ultimately fall in line behind the speaker remains an open question.

In a press conference Wednesday morning, Boehner predicted the spending bill would pass both houses of Congress “with bipartisan majorities” in the coming days. However, if Pelosi rallies Democrats to vote as a bloc against the deal, it would give the hard right element in the Republican conference more leverage, and Boehner could face another in a string of embarrassing legislative setbacks at the hands of his fractious conference.

A number of influential Democrats, including Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have come out forcefully against the deal.

To find the changes in the bill causing all the fuss, you have to be pretty dedicated. On the campaign finance rider specifically, you have to make it to page 1,599 of the 1,603-page proposal, and look under the rather unclear heading “Other Matters.”

Those who make it that far will learn that if the bill is signed into law, it will further undo efforts to restrict the influence of big money in politics, which had already been greatly diminished by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. By some estimates, individual donors will see the cap on how much money they can donate to party committees increased tenfold.

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The bill would not just increase the amount of money that individuals can give to party committees, but would also increase the number of committees eligible for the funding. The result appears to be that an individual currently limited to giving $32,400 per year to a national party committee, and to separate committees focused on House and Senate races, could now give a total of $776,600 per year – or more than $1.5 million per election cycle.

This is separate and apart from money contributed to individual candidates, unaffiliated political action committees, and more.

Campaign finance reform advocates blasted the policy rider, which was inserted into the bill with no debate in either house of Congress.

“These legislative provisions if they becomes law will be the most corrupting campaign finance legislation ever enacted,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a non-profit based in Washington. “Every member who votes to enact these provisions and President Obama if he signs them into law will go down in history as enabling the corruption of our democracy and the national scandals that will follow their enactment.”

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Pro-reform group Common Cause said in a statement, “These changes take us another step back toward the pre-Watergate era, when political money was essentially unregulated and the nation endured a wave of corruption unlike any in our history. Unbridled political spending is even more dangerous now because the economic gap between the richest Americans and the rest of us is so large that a relative handful of big money donors can use their resources to drown out everyone else.”

On Capitol Hill, Pelosi said the measure “would work to drown out the voices of the American people and massively expand the role of big money in our elections. With this provision, Republicans would multiply ten times the amount of money wealthy individuals can give to a political party.”

Pelosi said she also objects to another rider that makes changes to the Dodd-Frank law, loosening some restrictions on the risks banks and investment firms can take. The bill would loosen a restriction from the 2010 Wall Street reform bill that prevents banks insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from dealing in risky derivatives trading.

“These provisions are destructive to middle class families and to the practice of our democracy,” she said. “We must get them out of the omnibus package.”

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