The disgusting "Cromnibus" spectacle: When "compromise" reigns supreme, the people get hosed

The House pass, and the Senate is about to pass, an atrocious piece of legislation. But hey, it's a compromise!

Published December 12, 2014 7:05PM (EST)

  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/photo montage by Salon)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/photo montage by Salon)

It hasn't been properly appreciated yet just what a disgusting, insane display of governance we've been witnessing for the past couple of days. It's dangerous to think about: a proper appreciation, a true grasp of the ugly deed, might make one's head explode. Consider this a trigger warning.

On Tuesday night, House and Senate negotiators released a 1,600-page bill comprising a year's worth of budget legislation. And really all other pieces of legislation, in the form of riders, that were too vile to pass on their own. Members were given two days to read this almanac, digest its contents, hear from constituents, and decide how to vote.

Couldn't congressional leaders have, say, passed a week-long continuing resolution funding the government, to give their members slightly more time to consider this beast? Oh God, no. That might have trimmed their Christmas Vacation from three weeks to two. Even worse: if members had more time to read and consider the "cromnibus," they'd run the risk of finding out what was in it. How would such a monstrosity ever pass if everyone was aware of its contents?

The overarching dynamic of the compromise struck between House and Senate appropriators appears to be: corporate special interests get whatever carve-outs and legislation they'd been demanding, and in exchange the government can continue to exist.

This was the argument that the White House used in its dramatic full-court press of House Democrats, in which the president himself was making calls, pushing the hard sell, all afternoon. The swaps pushout rule gets gutted, in legislative language written by Citigroup itself, but Dodd-Frank will otherwise continue to exist. School nutrition standards get weakened, but not wholly eliminated. (This is one of the "funniest' parts of the bill: an impending reduction in sodium levels will be delayed "until the latest scientific research establishes the reduction is beneficial for children," is what it says. What if Science determines that pumping kids full of sodium is actually good for them, hmm?) Obamacare will remain the law of the land, but its continued implementation will rely on a shoestring budget. A workaround for what remained of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was found, but hey, there are still a couple of campaign finance regulations on the books that John Roberts' Supreme Court hasn't gotten around to axing yet. A Republican moralizer from Maryland gets to overturn an election in Washington D.C. (pop. 646,449), but at least he's letting its citizens continue to breathe oxygen.

It's fitting that this was all worked out and pushed through against the backdrop of a torture report describing how the government spent years jamming things up the rectums of the unwilling.

What's the go-to defense of this horrid piece of legislation? It's a "compromise." Heh, well, that sure is true. You get some things, they get some things. It's not really that the left gets some things and the right gets some things, mind you. It's that special interests get paid off, and the country's citizens get to continue living their lives.

Hopefully those vapid pundits, who prioritize "compromise" above all else -- just get something done! -- see, in this hideous creature that's about to cruise through the Senate and head to the president's desk, the sort of crap that they're enabling. That compromise, as an end in and of itself, provides cover for dirty deeds that none should countenance.

Compromise fetishists love to talk about how President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill would fight all day, reach a compromise, and then go have a drink. The romanticization of this relationship, centered around questionable sobriety, is unparalleled in Beltway circles. This week we got something vaguely analogous to that relationship, and it's hard to find any glory in it. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Hal Rogers, the respective appropriations chairs, went into a room for a few days to hash out a deal covering a year's worth of legislative battles, and then expected members to pass it within 48 hours. Those members who had the gall to glance at it and think, What the fuck?, were chastised as poor sports.

(Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for example, glanced at it and thought What the fuck? The mainstream media -- THRILLED to have an easy opportunity to show off its objectivity -- was pissing itself with glee as it set up the "Elizabeth Warren: Ted Cruz of the left?" narrative. Nevermind the issues over which Warren was picking her battles or, more importantly, that a shutdown was never in play -- the backup plan to this "cromnibus" was always a clean continuing resolution.)

"Compromise" isn't a bad thing in the abstract. But if it's your core metric for scoring governmental health, then this is the sort of trash legislation you'll get, and you'll deserve. It offers lawmakers cover for passing a thick binder of scum that they hope no one ever dare read.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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Barbara Mikulski Budget Congress Cromnibus Editor's Picks Hal Rogers House John Boehner Senate Votes White House