In time to avert a government shutdown, lawmakers agreed late Tuesday to a $1.1 trillion spending bill that funds most of the government through September 2015 and gives the Securities and Exchange Commission a slight budget boost.
The measure, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, is being called a “cromnibus” because it includes both short-term (or CR) measures within a longer-term omnibus bill. Lawmakers could pass a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government if both chambers fail to pass a larger measure by Thursday at midnight.
“This agreement means no government shutdown and no government on autopilot,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a late Tuesday statement. “In today’s era of slamdown politics, we were able to set aside our differences. Working across the aisle and across the dome, we created compromise without capitulation.”
“As we close in on our Dec. 11 deadline, we now ask that the House and Senate take up and pass this bill as soon as possible, and that the President sign it when it reaches his desk,” Mikulski said.
Mikulski said that the spending bill meets the nation’s national security needs (the bill provides funding to the Department of Homeland Security only through February), provides funds to respond to and prepare for Ebola “at the epicenter,” addresses the nation’s health care and education needs, as well as “protects the opportunity ladder by increasing Pell Grants and making college more affordable.”
But lawmakers and lobbying groups are up in arms over riders attached to the bill that address derivatives and retiree benefits.
The bill allocates $1.5 billion to the SEC, which is $150 million more than the agency’s fiscal 2014 enacted level but $200 million less than the $1.7 billion requested by President Obama.
An SEC spokesperson said in a Wednesday statement that the agency is “pleased that the draft FY 2015 appropriations bill includes additional funds for the SEC. These funds are critical to the SEC’s ability to fulfill its important mission, including permitting us to increase our examination coverage and to continue to hire industry experts and modernize our technology.”
The bill does not include language forcing the Department of Labor to wait for the SEC to move first on its fiduciary rulemaking before DOL unveils its fiduciary redraft, which is supposed to come in January.
Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, says the House bill was said to include such a rider but “the Senate rejected it.” There was also talk of including “a possibly watered-down version of that [DOL] language,” but no such rider ever made its way into the omnibus spending bill.
Former House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank told his former colleagues on Wednesday to reject the Omnibus Appropriations bill because of its “stealth attack on financial reform,” calling a provision inserted into the Appropriations bill known as the “swaps push-out” rule “a substantive mistake” and “terrible violation of the procedure that should be followed on this complex and important subject.”
Ironically, Frank said, “it was a similar unrelated rider put without debate into a larger bill that played a major role in allowing irresponsible, unregulated derivative transactions to contribute” to the financial crisis. How to regulate derivatives “is a question about which responsible people can differ, and the subject of what insured banks should be doing in this area is a legitimate subject for debate—but not for a non-germane amendment inserted with no hearings, no chance for further modification, and no chance for debate into a mammoth bill in the last days of a lame-duck Congress,” Frank said.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, said that she was “disgusted” by the “back-room deal” to insert the rider, in which “some members and lobbyists for the largest banks are trying to undo a seminal component of the Wall Street Reform Act by reversing a provision that prohibits banks from using taxpayer-insured funds to engage in derivatives trading activity.”
AARP Senior Vice President Joyce Rogers spoke out against the Kline-Miller amendment, which she said would allow pensions of retired workers to be slashed. “This last minute backroom deal would, for the first time, amend the pension law to allow the earned vested benefits of retirees to be cut,” Rogers said. “After a lifetime of hard work to earn their pensions, retirees don’t deserve to receive a bad deal, in which they’ve had no say, cut behind closed doors and excluding the very people who would be impacted most.”