It’s become an article of faith among some liberals that Democrats … oh, sorry, just the Obama administration … are bad negotiators. Well, let’s see how they made out this time.
On this one, which funds the federal government, it looks like Harry Reid and company did pretty well:
Democrats believe the bill, which passed 67 to 32 and was the final major piece of legislation of the year, hands them a slew of points to use heading into the 2012 election season.
“There were a lot of ideological riders, and other nasty things in there that we got stripped from the bill,” said one Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations.
The trillion-dollar “omnibus bill” passed the House overwhelmingly Friday, and President Obama is expected to sign it soon before going on vacation.
“The GOP came in with an aggressive agenda and both in April and now today, the president and Democratic negotiators held their ground,” said another Democrat, referring to budget battles last spring. The senior aide added that they “made sure that extreme, ideological riders that had nothing to do with funding the government were removed.”
“Priorities like health care reform, Wall Street reform and education were funded,” said the aide, speaking anonymously Friday night because negotiations over tax cuts and other items were ongoing.
In fact, such items had all faced major cuts in the original bills passed by the House.
Perhaps the most-heavily targeted agency was the Environmental Protection Agency, which faced funding cuts of more than $1.5 billion. It still wound up with a substantial cut, but ended up with a budget above $8 billion, instead of the GOP’s proposed $7.15 billion.
And removed from the bill were dozens of environmental riders that would have done things like allow mining around the Grand Canyon, controversial mountaintop mining practices blamed for harming streams and water quality, removal of protections for gray wolves, and prevention of the EPA from regulating certain greenhouse gas emissions.
On the Wall Street front, Republicans sought to weaken the new Consumer Financial Protection Board, which they contend has too much authority. They also would have cut back and weakened the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which plays a central role under last year’s financial reforms in regulating risky derivatives trading. Both agencies were preserved by today’s bill.
One source said the White House was especially pleased that money was preserved for the president’s Race to the Top education initiative, which rewards schools for innovative reform plans. “Republicans were bragging about cutting Race to the Top in their bill, although how it’s good to cut education, I don’t know,” a Democratic source said.
The bill also added money to the health reform law, instead of cutting it.
2. The payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extension
On this one, Republicans won the concession of requiring — to the extent Congress can “require” a co-equal branch of government — to “make a decision” on the controversial Keystone pipeline within 60 days. That sent envirotweeters into meltdown today, but the reality is, as explained by no less than Ed Henry (the guy who always should have been at Fox News but for some strange reason spent a bunch of years at CNN) that what Republicans really wanted was to require the president to DO the pipeline (again, a constitutionally dubious proposition.) So they won a concession that’s essentially without meaning, since the president can simply “decide” not to do it, and even blame the 60-day time period as not providing enough time. In the end, even the unions that wanted the pipeline because they believe it will create union jobs (though studies suggest not many of them) will get past that issue in time for the election.
The short term nature of the payroll tax and unemployment extension (2 months) could be viewed as a Democratic loss, in that it falls short of the 1 year extension the president wants, but Dems will claim victory on it anyway, and the White House will tick it off as movement toward the American Jobs Act, while both sides can go back to their corners, wrap some Christmas gifts, and prepare to do this all over again in February, when the White House folks seem to believe Republicans will be forced to back the full year extension. On balance though, extending unemployment benefits and not hiking middle class taxes during the holiday season has to be seen as a net win for the Ds, even though what Senate negotiators caved on was significant: the millionaires tax, being the largest thing.
All in all, Republicans can claim they got something like a trillion dollars in budget cuts (but not to NPR or Planned Parenthood, or other cherries they wanted to pick.) And Democrats can say they protected middle class programs, education and the environment.
Not bad for Dems, all in all, and good holiday politics for all.
3. The Indefinite Detention Bill and the rider allowing the president to expand the war on terror in perpetuity
(d) CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
(e) AUTHORITIES.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.
Congress cannot override the constitution, people, and the staffers who wrote this bill were careful to make it not apply to Americans. You may not like the provisions, but again, that would be on you to elect a better congress.
Moving right along now…