We just watched the end of The Old School Congress. It passed bills with thousands of pages, giving permission to members in the House and Senate to sneak legislation into larger bills. And better: To do so in a way without transparency or consequences.
Arizona’s Rio Tinto mine giveaway is a case in point. Actual legislation to support an Australian mining company never found support; it’s not smart politics. Which senator (other than John McCain who has long championed the deal) was willing to go before voters and say this is a good deal? But tucking into a Defense Authorization bill? Old school.
It’s a similar story for Sealaska and lands that were part of a promise under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. This time the old school process worked in favor of Alaska Natives. “Words cannot describe how pleased we are that this lands bill has passed through Congress,” said Sealaska President and CEO Anthony Mallott. And, unlike the Rio Tinto deal, this one was transparent. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was clear about her role in the deal.
The budget bill that Congress passed — the so-called cromnibus — was very much old school. It was signed into law Tuesday. It’s a massive spending bill, $1.1 trillion worth, wrapping up all sorts of regular appropriations with one page or one paragraph special deals that were inserted into the nearly 1,700 page document at the last minute.
But old school has its benefits. Federal Indian programs — especially the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs — were funded with modest increases. This budget means the rest of the year — from now until the end of September — should be drama free. Agencies will know how much money is available and what can be done.
But this is when the Old School ends. In a few days a new Republican Congress takes over. While many leaders are fond of the process — the give and take of legislation — the core of the party’s constituency is dismissive. The new school sees legislation as simple, clear and transparent. Not bad values, at that. But they also see legislation as either good or evil. And federal spending is not good.
What’s missing from the discourse, then, is the reality that we are already in an era of austerity. Most federal spending has been declining for five years straight and cutting domestic spending even more will not produce the kind of results that the New School wants. (more…)