The least productive Congress in modern history convened with great promise. The challenges Congress faced were substantial: to finally fix our broken immigration system, protect American taxpayers from unscrupulous lenders and risky financial investments, and to address 25 years of stagnating wages for the middle class. But Congress was simply not up to the challenge, and the 114th Congressional session ended with a last minute, backroom deal that does little to address our nation's problems.
On December 16th, President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill that will fund our government for the next nine months. While passage of the "CRomnibus" brings some stability and order to the chaotic and wasteful budget process that led to a government shutdown in 2013, the spending bill is deeply flawed. Latinos need policy that comprehensively invests in our families, our youth, and our workers; this measure fails to address these priorities. Primary among the bill's flaws are financial deregulation provisions that threaten to bring back the Great Recession. By rolling back financial protections that were signed into law in 2010 as part of the Dodd-Frank Act, the "CRomnibus" bill will allow banks to use taxpayer-backed assets in deritiatves trading - the same high-risk activities that did much to prompt the financial collapse of 2008. Allowing banks to gamble with taxpayer-backed funds benefits no one but the bankers themselves, reaping private profit when they make a winning bet, while enjoying the luxury of having their losses subsidized by publicly-funded bailouts when their bets go bad.
This isn't just an unfair deal for taxpayers -- it's particularly dangerous for Latinos, women, and people of color in general. These are the populations who will be hurt the most deeply if a financial crisis hits that causes another recession. You only have to look at the numbers to confirm that another recession would devastate Latino families. Consider wealth inequality: while the Great Recession brought economic pain to nearly all Americans, the wealth gap between white and Latino households has actually increased in the years since the Recession struck. In 2013, white households had 10.3 times the wealth that Latino households held, up from 8.2 times in 2007. What gains American families have made since 2008 have not been distributed evenly, making it particularly callous of our lawmakers to facilitate financial risk-taking and instability when too many working families have yet to recover from the hardships of the Great Recession.
Beyond recklessly rolling back the financial protections of Dodd-Frank, Congress tacked on several other policy changes to the spending bill that threaten the lives and livelihoods of working families. Gone are the regulations that require truck drivers to sleep a certain number of hours between long stretches of driving, meaning that you now might soon find yourself driving next to a trucker who has been on the road for 82 hours that week alone. Gone as well are the secure pensions of retired employees of the U.S. government, who likely may see their benefits cut in the near future. And, Congress even took steps to roll back nutrition standards for school lunches: schools now do not have to reduce their sodium levels and have greater flexibility with whole grain standards.
Let's review the cards that Congress dealt to Latino families and workers in the "CRomnibus" bill. Important financial protections, put in place after the financial crisis of 2008 devastated American families have been removed so that banks can once again use taxpayer-backed funds in risky and poorly-understood trading activities; retirees will likely soon see their pension benefits diminished; regulations that made the roads safer for truckers and for everyone around them have been eliminated; and school lunch regulations were watered down.
If this spending bill is a preview how the incoming Congress will treat our families, workers, and youth, organizations that work to empower and improve the lives of the Latino community will have plenty on their plates over the next two years.