12 December 2014
More spending, less regulation
On the radio this morning I heard a Democratic congressman from Virginia ranting on the House floor about how compromise was the way the legislative branch was supposed to work. If compromise means everyone gives up something, I'm not sure that's what we saw last night in the passage of the so-called Cromnibus spending bill. Democrats, at the President's urging, had to loosen some regulations of derivatives trading and campaign donations. Tea Partiers, despite their Nay votes, had to accept funding of the President's discretionary enforcement of immigration laws. The Cromnibus is acknowledged as genuinely bipartisan legislation, as enough Republicans opposed it to make Democratic support essential to its passage. That probably means there's more spending in the bill than any Republican really likes, and if that's so then I suppose everyone did give up something. We can still question whether the tradeoffs were equitable. Seeing the Democrats -- or at least the President -- relent on regulation to get more spending actually made me wonder whether there actually was some virtue in the idea of austerity. Of course, it the spending is for essential programs and not for the pork barrel, it could be argued that Democrats had to give Speaker Boehner something, especially if his bill was angering Tea Partiers. On the other hand, we can still ask whether the regulations were more important than the spending. People with money to throw around can now throw ten times as much as before to the national party committees. Stock traders can play more of the same games that got everyone in trouble in 2008. Would it be unfair to ask people to do without some things to hold the line on the old regulations? I leave the answer to those measuring the pros rather than the cons of the bill -- but I doubt they can justify the ancient, obfuscating practice of attaching rules-change "riders" like the ones mentioned to spending bills. The practice may make horse-trading easier but it also makes it hard to know the will of the nation on the merits of individual things. I get the sense that not many Americans approve of the cromnibus in its entirety, but once the Senate approves it and the President signs it, it's the law of the land, in its entirety, just the same. I'd like to think that if the base elements of each party hate it, there must be some good to it, but thinking so presumes an inherent virtue in centrism that can't be proved. Centrism in a bipolarchy isn't the same as moderation as the ancients understood it. A compromise between bad and bad probably isn't much good for anyone, but it probably won't end the world either -- this time, at least.