On the News With Thom Hartmann: Washington Passes Disastrous $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Washington passed a disastrous $1.1 trillion spending bill; activists staged a protest outside the Office of the US Trade Representative to demand that secret trade negotiations come to an end; corporations that donate to political campaigns are getting a massive return on their investment; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. Last week, with only hours to go before the government shutdown, the House of Representatives passed the so-called “Cromnibus” bill to keep government running. As usual, Republicans used the looming deadline to force through massive cuts and more deregulation. And, once again, far too many Democrats went along with the Republican hostage-taking. The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed the House in a 219-to-206 vote, with 57 Democrats voting to approve the budget – despite its disastrous provisions – and the Senate gave their approval over the weekend. Thanks to this new legislation, the IRS and EPA budgets have been slashed and the Pell Grant program was hit with $300 million in cuts. Pension guarantees for retired workers have been gutted, and programs like HUD and Section 8 were denied nearly a billion dollars of their requested funding. In stark contrast, those cuts didn’t prevent billions in new spending for military operations, or stop Wall Street from getting taxpayer-backed protections for the same high-risk derivatives that crashed our economy. And, as if that wasn’t enough, a rider in the bill made it possible for billionaires to give ten-times more money to political parties, and for the rich to have even more power in our political system. Despite all these facts – and the many more that are sure to be uncovered – dozens of Democrats refused to vote with their progressive colleagues and stand up to Republicans. This is what happens when lawmakers answer only to those at the top, and that’s not limited to legislators on the right. This bill is a slap in the face to the poor and the working class, and a big holiday gift to Wall Street and military contractors. Every time Democrats give in to this type of last-minute negotiation, they set themselves up for the next round of Republican demands. It’s time to let them know that we’ve had enough. We’ve got two years to make it clear that we want lawmakers who will stand up to the hostage taking at all costs, so let’s get busy making our voices heard.

Last week in Washington, D.C., hundreds of activists staged a protest outside the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to demand that secret trade negotiations come to an end. Activists scheduled the protest to coincide with the latest round of secretive talks surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership – aka the TPP or SHAFTA. Opponents of that agreement say that it would undermine environmental and financial regulations, further the destruction of our environment, and ship thousands more American jobs overseas. To make matters worse, the deal continues to be negotiated in secret, and trade negotiators continue to push for so-called “fast-track” legislation that would eliminate Congress’s power to debate the provisions of that agreement. However, these activists say they’re not leaving anytime soon. George Kohl of Communications Workers of America said, “In the weeks ahead, we will mobilize like never before against fast track authorizing legislation and the TPP, and for 21st century trade that gives workers’ rights, environmental issues, and other concerns the same standing as profits.”

Lots of big retailers tried to maximize their Black Friday profits by making workers come in on Thanksgiving. However, Costco is proving that you don’t have to screw workers to increase sales. Last week, that company announced that their November sales were 7 percent up from 2013 numbers, and well above growth predictions from industry analysts. Not only does Costco allow workers to spend holidays with their families, the company also pays more and provides better benefits than its competitors. When asked about their holiday policy by the ThinkProgress Blog, a Costco spokesperson said that they give workers the day off because they “work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families.” Simply put, treating workers better means better productivity, and it means customers who feel good about shopping in Costco stores.

If you could spend one dollar to make $760, there’s no way you would pass up that investment. Well, that’s exactly why corporations spend billions on our elections. According to a new report from the Sunlight Foundation, corporations that donate to political campaigns are getting one heck of a return on their investment. Between 2007 and 2012, 200 of our country’s biggest corporate campaign donors dished out $5.8 billion on contributions and lobbying. In return, those companies received $4.4 trillion – yes, trillion, with a “t” – in tax breaks, bail outs, and federal contracts. To put that number in perspective, consider that our government paid about the same amount to all 50 million social security recipients during that same five-year time frame. And, that figure doesn’t even include some benefits, like trade agreements or weakened regulations, which are more difficult to quantify. Yet, we’re still supposed to believe that lawmakers aren’t beholden to their corporate donors. The only way to change this is to get money out of our political system, and to put power back in the hands of actual people. Go to MoveToAmend.org to find out how.

And finally… Ever since Colorado legalized marijuana, pot shops have been trying to figure out what to do with all of their cash. Federal banking regulations prohibit traditional banks from doing business with the cannabis industry. So, the Colorado state banking commission has finally come up with a way for pot-related businesses to store and invest all their cash. Last week, that commission approved a charter for the first-of-its-kind credit union for marijuana sellers, growers, and investors. The Fourth Corner Credit Union will open in January, and it will finally give pot shops another option besides stockpiling huge sums of cash. Having all that cash on hand presented a big security risk for cannabis shops, and made it hard for them to do business with people who don’t carry cash. The Fourth Corner Credit Union still has to be recognized by the Federal Reserve and their deposits won’t be insured like other banks. But, this credit union is a great step toward recognizing marijuana shops as the legitimate businesses that they are.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of December 15, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.