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Sneak Attack? Congress Slips Controversial Measures into Spending Bill

Image: Emanuel Cleaver

The Capitol is seen at dusk in Washington, as the lame duck Congress reconvened with a stacked agenda and little time to accomplish it, Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. Temporary funding for the government expires Dec. 11, and Capitol Hill leaders would like to pass an "omnibus" bill to keep Cabinet agency operations running through the Sept. 30 end of the 2015 budget year. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Boehner 'Proud' of Bipartisan Spending Bill 0:32

You’ve heard of 5:00 pm ET news dumps on a Friday, right? Well, on Tuesday night we saw what amounted to a Lame-Duck Congress news dump: As the political world was busy flipping through the pages of the graphic and headline-grabbing Senate Intelligence Committee report on Bush Era torture practices, Congress snuck in two measures to its must-pass spending bill -- all without formal debate. The first was a rider that essentially overturns the District of Columbia’s ballot initiative legalizing marijuana, which passed by a more than 2-to-1 margin last month. (Remember, D.C. doesn’t even have elected House or Senate members.) The second measure Congress snuck into the spending the bill will be more galling to some, because it amounts to a pay raise for the two unpopular political parties: It raises the $32,400 maximum that donors could give the Democratic National Committee or Republican National Committee to a whopping $324,000 per year, gutting what’s left of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. The Washington Post says this was inserted on page 1,599 of a 1,603-page bill (!!!). These two measures -- and probably more like them -- will become law because they were jammed into a must-pass spending bill to keep the government open. Remember all the grumbling about transparency? All the grumbling about gigantic bills that many members of Congress never read? Given that, what happened last night was mind blowing.

Where were the hearings? Where was the congressional debate?

Yes, Congress has routinely imposed its will on a D.C. that is taxed without true representation. Yes, there is a legitimate argument that it’s better to have political money in the national parties than in all of the Super PACs and 501c4 groups out there. But inserting these riders into a must-pass spending bill -- without congressional debate, without hearings. without any scrutiny -- is what is outrageous. (Note: House Republicans point out that they did debate D.C.’s marijuana legalization, but the Senate didn’t.) “There was no debate. It’s one of the reasons I’m going to vote against it.” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) said of the campaign-finance change on “Morning Joe” this morning. Labrador also admitted he didn’t even know about the campaign-finance rider until one of us asked him about it. Indeed, this should embarrass every Republican who promised more transparency and debate in 2010, or who railed against President Obama’s executive actions. It should also embarrass every Democrat who complains about big money in American politics, or who believes D.C. should have the right to govern themselves. (Note: Democrats are pointing out that they preferred a clean spending bill, but that this was the price of funding the government.) The good news: The government isn’t going to shut down. Hooray! The bad news: Congress, once again, is discrediting itself to the American public. And thanks to divided government, you’ll see that both sides are blaming the other. Ah, bipartisanship!

Two quick points on the Senate Intel report

We have a couple of quick points we want to make on yesterday’s Senate Intelligence report. The first: What the Senate panel released yesterday were CIA documents on the Bush Era’s interrogation practices. There are two types of investigations -- 1) where you interview people, and 2) where you comb through files. This was the latter. And if the CIA truly wanted to hide these practices, they wouldn’t have kept notes and files on them. (That said, they apparently did destroy any video associated with them.) The second: John McCain yesterday delivered a powerful speech condemning the Bush Era interrogation practices. Remember, he campaigned against them during his 2008 presidential bid. And don’t be surprised if McCain’s words are used as debate and voter questions to the candidates running for president in 2016. Do you agree or disagree with these kinds of practices? A few other questions to ponder: If these practices were so egregious, does that mean some Senate Democrats will ask for the Justice Department to reconsider an investigation? If the CIA was so convinced these practices were legal, why not brief the president sooner? And if they were legal, then why the concern to conduct these interrogations in foreign countries?

McCain Critical of CIA Tactics After Report Is Released 1:35

Obama calls the interrogations practices “wrong”

For his part, President Obama told our colleague Jose Diaz-Balart that the Bush Era CIA practices were wrong. “I think, overall, the men and women at the C.I.A. do a really tough job and they do it really well. And that was true then and it's true today,” he said. “But in the aftermath of 9/11, I mean, in the midst of-- a national trauma, and uncertainty as to whether these attacks were gonna repeat themselves-- you know, what's clear is that-- the C.I.A. set up something very fast without a lot of forethought to what the ramifications might be.” Obama added, “I think it's important for us not to paint any broad brush-- about all the incredible dedicated professionals-- in our intelligence community-- based on-- some actions that I think were-- really-- contrary to who we are. But I think it was also important for us to face up to the fact that when countries are threatened, oftentimes they act rationally in ways that in retrospect-- were-- were wrong.”

2016: Same as it ever was?

Turning to 2016, it’s striking how many -- if not most -- of the potential presidential candidates have either run for the White House before or have had a relative do it. Think about it: There’s Hillary Clinton (who ran in ’08 and whose husband was president from 1993-2001), Jeb Bush (whose brother and father were president), Rand Paul (whose dad ran THREE times), Rick Perry (who ran in 2012 and is thinking about another retooled one, according to the Washington Post), Mike Huckabee (who ran in 2008), Rick Santorum (who ran in 2012), and even maybe Mitt Romney (who GOP fundraisers believe is keeping his powder dry). The only fresh faces we can think of: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Jim Webb, and Martin O’Malley.

Howard Dean repeats his support for Hillary -- as MoveOn and DFA push to draft Warren into the ’16 race

Finally, just as MoveOn and Howard Dean’s old Democracy for America are considering whether to launch a Draft Elizabeth Warren movement, here’s a Politico op-ed by Howard Dean endorsing Hillary Clinton. “Hillary Clinton is by far the most qualified person in the United States to serve as President. If she runs, I will support her,” he writes. Folks, this is the SECOND TIME we can remember that Ready For Hillary and Clinton allies have responded to news from potential competitors or challengers. The first was when Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) reiterated his endorsement for Hillary after Jim Webb announced his presidential exploratory committee.

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