Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
Last week Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) warned that "the House of Representatives is about to show us the worst of government for the rich and powerful." They promptly did, and the Senate quickly followed suit. We are now at greater risk of another derivatives-based financial crisis, and billionaires and corporations now have even more influence over the two party's entrenched establishments.
The "CRomnibus" spectacle was a return to the showdown days of past years, with another phony "drama" ginned up around a "must-pass" bill in order to serve up a "compromise" -- a "bipartisan" one, of course -- that serves the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals.
But hold the cynicism, because all is not yet lost. "A few more such victories and we are undone," the Greek general Pyrrhus supposedly said. But we're looking at the opposite situation: A few more losses like this, and we might be getting somewhere.
It was certainly a strange spectacle: A president who's largely been detached from the legislative process, reborn as an LBJ-like arm twister in order to pass a bill weakening one of the landmark achievements of his tenure. As President Obama and White House appointees called legislators on their cell phones urging them to support the deal that weakened Dodd-Frank financial regulations, they were joined in their efforts by the CEO of one of the most fraud-ridden and scandal-plagued banks in modern history.
When the boss calls, you're supposed to listen. That is presumably why Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase added his voice to that of the president and vice president of the United States.
Predictably, most House Republicans fell in line. So did 57 Democrats. A smart analysis by Philip Bump of the Washington Post shows that these House Democrats received, on average, twice as much money from financial interests as those voting "no."
(Okay, a little cynicism is understandable.)
I said this deal would be a "disaster" if it passed, and it is. An important fight was lost. But the good news is this: There was a fight, and it was a tough one.
It's undeniably true that the Republicans back this deal's servile provisions for the wealthy and powerful because it's "who they are."
But who, exactly, are the Democrats? Are they represented by a president who once again insists that a pro-corporate deal is the best we can expect, or by the revitalized populist wing that showed up in force for this battle? The rank and file would certainly be energized by a more populist party. So, according to the polls, would independents -- and even some Republicans. But many more elected Democrats will have to switch sides and join the progressive tide if the party's direction is to change.
That's why battles like these offer reasons for long-term optimism amid the short-term disappointment: They force politicians on both sides of the aisle to choose sides. The more that happens, the more popular pressure will shift the political debate.
Yes, there were disappointments is this battle -- major ones. But, for the first time in a while, there were some pleasant surprises too.
Surprise #1: It was expected that Sen. Warren would put up a fierce and well-fought fight. But she exceeded expectations with the force and clarity of her argument, the power of her leadership, and her willingness to name names. Her December 12 Senate floor speech is a must-watch for dispirited populists everywhere, especially for her willingness to call out both Citigroup (whose lobbyists wrote the bank-giveaway provision in this deal) and the past two Democratic administrations (for the extraordinary number of Citigroup executives they've appointed).
Surprise #2: A number of other Democrats -- frankly, far more than we expected -- showed up for the fight. We expected senators like Warren, Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to make a stand. But so did 18 others, including Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Even Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who once chastised President Obama for criticizing hedge funds, voted against the "CRomnibus" deal.