Common Ground

Another congressional year draws to a close, and all issues that were pushed off by politicians who didn’t want their vote to be considered in last month’s elections are now being considered for passage in the lame-duck session. This is a session where congressmen and senators are focused on one thing and one thing only: finishing up their work and going home. It is only in this sort of environment that the long-term government funding bill, now known as “CRomnibus” (a mix of “CR” which is what the bill that keeps the government open is called, and “Omnibus,” which is a bill that contains a whole bunch of unrelated spending measures), can make its way through the Congress.

But  in an environment dominated by partisan fighting, where each party will reflexively oppose whatever it is that the other is proposing, this bill had, what we call, “broad bipartisan support.” It was passed last Tuesday night in the Republican-controlled House by a 219-206 vote. Fifty-seven Democrats joined 162 Republicans in approving the bill. Four nights later, it passed the Senate 56-40. Twenty-four Republicans joined 32 Democrats to make sure that the bill made it through the upper chamber.
At first glance this is a great thing. If Democrats and Republicans, who cannot agree on just about anything, can agree that this bill is necessary, it has to mean that it is. Right?

The passuk in Mishlei says, “L’taavah yevakesh nifrad — He who is separate(d) pursues his desires.” Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah, Shaar 1, os 31) explains that following one’s desires leads to pirud, separation from others. Since different people desire different things, it is understandable that engaging in that pursuit will lead to division.

A chashuve Yid and personal mentor once told me that Rabbeinu Yonah’s understanding of the passuk can be expanded to include something else as well. What happens when people who are constantly in a state of “l’taavah yevakesh nifrad” and are single-minded about pursuing what they want at the expense of getting along with or being able to deal with others in a pleasant way, suddenly find a way to align themselves with the very people toward whom they are usually antagonistic? Does that mean that in those cases the explanation of Rabbeinu Yonah somehow doesn’t apply? Can they be coming together for an altruistic purpose? Absolutely not. The most plausible explanation is that it happens to be that the interests of the two mevakshei taavah align, and they happen to be pursuing the same thing.

As it relates to the CRomnibus bill, this vort rings true. How is it possible that GOP leadership and the Obama administration both invested so much effort in getting this $1.1 trillion bill passed? They hardly ever agree about anything!

One look at the opponents of the bill on both sides of the aisle should tell you all you need to know. Anti-crony capitalists on the right along with Senator Elizabeth Warren on the left lead the effort against this bill. An article by Tim Carney in The Washington Examiner pointed out just a few of the problematic provisions found buried inside. We can begin with Warren’s main complaint: the new loophole that undermines sections of the banking reform bill and allows banks to put derivatives in FDIC-insured sections of their companies. This is a boon for them because it allows them to make riskier deals with those derivatives, because ultimately they are going to be backed up by the taxpayer — which means that it is less than the greatest thing for taxpayers.

Another troubling portion is on the bill’s final page. That section is, as National Review’s Yuval Levin says, “simply put, a special favor for Blue Cross/ Blue Shield allowing them to count ‘quality improvement’ spending as part of the medical loss ratio calculation required of them under Obamacare. And it’s made retroactive for four years, saving them loads of money.” Absent this change, Blue Cross/Blue Shield would have to return the MLR money to their consumers, which means that it benefits the big businesses at the cost of the private citizen.

Over the president’s first six years in office, it hasn’t been a secret that he has made a point of benefiting big companies with sweetheart deals. And now we see, as Heritage’s Mike Needham pointed out, that “GOP leadership’s objective is to make the ‘trains run on time’ for [the] big-business donor community…”

So in this case, which is benefiting big business at the expense of the average citizen, they have found common ground. And it is simple why: they just happen to both have the same desire.