Liberal senators threaten to oppose omnibus

A growing number of Senate Democrats are siding with liberal star Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats reintroduce bill to block US from using nuclear weapons first CEO who gave employees K minimum wage says revenue tripled 6 years later Forgiving K in school loans would free 36 million student borrowers from debt: data MORE (D-Mass.) and threatening to vote against a year-end omnibus because of a controversial Wall Street provision.

Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyGiffords group unveils gun violence memorial on National Mall Democrats back up Biden bid to return to Iran nuclear deal Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  MORE (Conn.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico Intelligence leaders warn of threats from China, domestic terrorism Top academics slam Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act MORE (N.M.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) said they were undecided about how to vote on the bill.


All of them expressed concern over various policy riders, including a proposal to allow government-backed banks to trade risky derivatives, which was banned by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.

Merkley and Markey expressed the gravest reluctance about voting for the bill but said they had not made a final decision.

“It’s a very black mark on the omnibus if it comes over to the Senate with that in it. I certainly would consider voting no on it,” Merkley said of the Dodd-Frank provision.

The Oregon Democrat said the point of the reform is to protect the banking system from collapse and to shield taxpayers from future bailouts.

Markey said he is leaning toward voting no.

“I have to do a little bit more analysis, but right now I’m very concerned,” he said.

The White House has backed the spending bill, greatly increasing the likelihood of it passing the House and Senate with Democratic support. But scores of liberals in both chambers are deeply unhappy about the Wall Street language, even though a similar measure was moved through the House with dozens of Democratic votes.

Durbin warned during a Thursday morning appearance on MSNBC there would be “a problem” in the Senate if the House did not remove the Dodd-Frank provision.

He said Congress might have to pass a short-term funding measure instead of the $1 trillion omnibus, which keeps most of government operating through September. 

The question is whether liberals will press Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to allow them to vote on amendments to the spending package. Barring that option, the only way to block the provision would be to defeat the entire bill.

Reid and President Obama seem intent on getting a bill.

The Office of Management and Budget announced Thursday afternoon that the administration supports the year-end spending measure, which it hailed as a “bipartisan effort” that provides certainty.

Warren took to the floor again on Thursday afternoon to call on colleagues to strip the Wall Street provision, which she said was drafted by lobbyists for Citigroup

“A vote for this bill is a vote for future taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street,” she said.

So far, however, only Sen. Bernie Sanders, the liberal independent from Vermont, said he would definitely oppose the bill.

“Instead of cracking down on Wall Street CEOs who plunged the country into a terrible recession, this bill allows too-big-to-fail banks to make the same risky bets on derivatives that led to the largest taxpayer bailout in history and nearly destroyed the economy,” Sanders said in a statement he shared with The Hill.

Baldwin said she hoped the Dodd-Frank language would be stripped from the bill.

“Certainly, I have some strong concerns and don’t believe that the omnibus is the forum for these sort of last-minute things,” she said. “We’re still evaluating if there’s anything that can be done.”

Murphy said he “definitely has concerns about the massive layering of policy about the already very complicated spending package and the precedent it sets.”

He expressed alarm over the Dodd-Frank language and other policy riders, such as a campaign finance provision that dramatically raises the limit on donations to political parties.

“Victory can’t be that we only accepted a handful of the worst policy riders that the Republicans offered,” he said.

Heinrich expressed dismay over lack of funding for rural schools.

“I’m very frustrated in addition to the issue on derivatives [that] there is no secure rural schools funding,” he said. “We’re looking at the whole package, and at this point, I’m going to keep my powder dry and keep studying the bill.”