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Newsletter | RDP Newsletter | November 15, 2023

We Can’t Let Budget Negotiations Make A Punching Bag of Agency Capacity

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We Can’t Let Budget Negotiations Make A Punching Bag of Agency Capacity

As negotiations to prevent a government shutdown heat up once again, Democratic and Republican Representatives in the House are poised to make a play on agency resources.

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House Speaker Introduces Plan To Avoid Shutdown by KJ Boyle:

On Saturday, House Speaker Mike Johnson introduced the Republican plan to avoid the impending government shutdown coming on Saturday. Johnson is floating two continuing resolutions (CR) with staggered funding end dates on January 19th and February 2nd. While avoiding a shutdown in the immediate short term, this plan would risk additional rolling shutdowns should Congress fail to ink an omnibus deal or further CRs shortly after returning from the holidays. This is just the latest wrinkle in the ever more complicated, dysfunctional budget process. To help make sense of it, we’d like to amplify some of our past work on the budget and the importance of robust government capacity.

As our Fatou Ndiaye wrote for Democracy Journal last summer, Republicans since Newt Gringich have weaponized the budget, resulting in weeks-long shutdowns, decimated government funding, and vastly diminished permanent staff in congressional committees. These committees were instrumental to crafting the 12 separate appropriations bills that Republican leadership now claim to favor over one massive omnibus. Committee staff had specialized expertise and were more informed on the needs of the agencies within their jurisdiction. The committee centric approach also allowed for a wide range of congresspeople to have some influence on funding levels, a sharp contrast to the centralization of power within congressional leadership where budgets are leveraged for political gain.

As of now, Johnson’s proposed bills don’t include the massive cuts that the far right have called for, but these extremely short funding terms will undoubtedly lead to further efforts to slash government capacity in a couple months. In a separate bill that included billions in military funding for Israel, Johnson already attempted to decimate the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by slashing the money allocated to the agency in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act by 17 percent. By weakening the federal government’s ability to collect taxes, these efforts undercut Republicans’ stated goal of reducing the deficit (of course, their actions are merely a ploy to protect their wealthy benefactors). Our Hannah Story Brown and Eleanor Eagan wrote in Democracy Journal about the IRS’ ability to crack down on corporate crooks while simultaneously reducing the deficit. The IRS punches far above their funding weight class by collecting billions from wealthy and corporate tax cheats—and can do even more if granted more than a starvation diet of funding. 

But the IRS is not alone—there are many government agencies which exist to hold rogue corporations to account and whose funding is thus opposed by the worst behaved rich people in America. Agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Justice have the capacity to raise revenue and discourage dangerous lawbreaking when given the proper resources and staffing levels. 

Corporate Democrat Opposes Party And Public On Antitrust Enforcement by Julian Scoffield:

Late last month, Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, teamed up with his committee leader across the aisle, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KT), to submit an amendment to the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development appropriations bill. The amendment would effectively end the authority of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate antitrust issues by preventing the agencies from using appropriations funding to conduct competitive analyses of mergers. While the amendment language would not outright strip DOT of its merger oversight authorities, it would set up a mechanism to limit the agency’s capacity to deploy said powers. In a Department of Justice Antitrust (DOJ) oversight hearing yesterday, Correa defended his actions by arguing that allowing DOT to block mergers would be an affront to “decades of precedent and […] Congressional intent” which supposedly only gives DOJ the authority to do so. He also named corporations’ fear that in carrying out antitrust enforcement within the sectors they regulate, DOT would “attempt to block mergers and acquisitions when [the Antitrust Division] decides not to pursue legal action.” 

In seeking to remove one of the more powerful tools DOT has to crackdown on major airlines, for example, Correa is standing in direct opposition to both his party and the public. 

Antitrust is perhaps where President Biden has most unabashedly embraced a progressive policy agenda—evidenced by his personnel appointments and his July 2021 executive order urging the enforcement of “antitrust laws to combat the excessive concentration of industry.” DOT’s ability to adequately conduct investigations into a proposed merger’s impact on competition represents a plank of the “whole of government approach” the Biden Administration has named as essential to its efforts to combat monopoly power. Likewise, new polling data from a recent YouGov survey has once again shown that Americans across the political spectrum oppose monopoly power and support a tougher stance on corporate consolidation. 

Unfortunately, the sentiments of actual voters can only matter so much to someone who has proven instead to be far more responsive to his Big-Tech donors. As a former banker and real estate broker (with a 2022 Chamber of Commerce endorsement and financial ties to Clarence Thomas’ corrupt benefactor Harlan Crow to boot) it should come as no surprise that Correa would be, at the very least, sympathetic to industry concerns. Indeed, since his ascension to Ranking Member of the House Antitrust Committee, he has governed in a manner that is almost entirely in service of Silicon Valley corporations, despite said interests only comprising a small portion of his district’s constituency

Prior to his ranking membership appointment, Correa exposed his captured status by voting against a number of bipartisan antitrust bills, including one which provided a much-needed update to the antitrust enforcement agencies’ funding as the number of mergers and acquisitions they regulate grows rapidly. In June, almost immediately after news broke that he would succeed Rep. David Ciciline (D-RI) (who had led the Antitrust Subcommittee’s ground-breaking investigation into Big Tech’s monopoly power), CNBC reported on the ties Correa’s chief of staff René Muñoz has with tech giants like Apple and Amazon. Muñoz had “lobbied on behalf of” both tech titans on antitrust issues as recently as 2022. 

RDP wrote Correa a letter last month, urging the representative to fully account for his conflicts of interest by, among other things, recusing his chief of staff from antitrust-related matters and disclosing any communications himself and his staff have had with other tech firms. We’re still awaiting a response.

As previously mentioned, Correa’s opposition to robust antitrust enforcement directly challenges the wishes of his party leaders and the American public alike. However, it also risks causing DOT to lose ground on genuine progress the agency has made in recent months. 

RDP has been far from shy in criticizing Pete Buttigieg for failing as Transportation Secretary to seriously reprimand airlines for misconduct that resulted in a number of notable meltdowns last year. The department seemingly took those criticisms to heart and brought on Lina Khan’s former chief of staff, Jen Howard, as head of competition policy—indicating that DOT would be entering 2023 with a much more aggressive posture towards airline executives. In March, the agency blocked JetBlue’s merger with Spirit Airlines by denying the airlines’ request for an exemption to operate as a single carrier pending the deal’s final approval. It’s worth noting that DOT announced this decision on the same day that the DOJ filed its suit against the airlines, an example of inter-agency enforcement action that Correa explicitly fears. DOT has further opened an investigation into whether the JetBlue-Spirit Airlines takeover, and the Southwest Airline December 2022 cancellation debacle, violated antitrust laws regarding unfair and deceptive business practices. This is the type of responsiveness RDP advocates for from the executive branch, and we would hate to see DOT’s progressive turn undone by industry-captured members of Congress.

Follow the Revolving Door Project’s work on whatever platform works for you! You can find us on that website formerly known as Twitter, Bluesky, Instagram, and Facebook

Want more? Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week:

Biden’s Border Wall 

We Need To Make Some Changes To Election Day

RELEASE: New SCOTUS “Ethics Code” Is A Toothless PR Stunt

How Banks Keep You Trapped

Manchin Goes From Biden’s Most-Prized Democrat to Most Dangerous

6 things to know about the Supreme Court’s new ethics code 

Alpine Group lobbyist hangs a shingle 

‘Curveball like no other:’ Johnson’s rise has K Street trying to keep up

Scandal-Plagued Supreme Court Publishes “Code of Conduct” with No Enforcement Mechanism

“Peak gaslighting”: Legal scholars shred Supreme Court’s spin on new “unenforceable” ethics code

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo Is Undercutting Bidenomics

Over 100 Organizations Oppose “Fiscal Commission” That Threatens Social Security, As Do Former Greenspan Commission Staff

Compromises, loopholes and old promises: What to know about the Supreme Court’s ethics code

Fixating on Credibility Rather Than Following the Data Discredits the Fed

ON THE RECORD: Is the Supreme Court’s code of conduct meant to placate the American people?

Pluralistic: Biden wants to ban ripoff “financial advisors” (08 Nov 2023)

New SCOTUS “Ethics Code” Is a Toothless PR Stunt

Doubts Expressed Even after New Supreme Court Ethics Established, Following Public Scrutiny over Justice Thomas’ Benefits from Wealthy Conservatives 

Image Credit: “Lou Correa” by CSUF Photos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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