One of the Senate's leading liberals is borrowing a page from the playbook of Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is pushing to strike out language from the "cromnibus" spending bill unveiled Tuesday that would roll back restrictions on "swaps" transactions included in the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul known as Dodd-Frank. Repealing the "push-out" provision would mean that certain derivatives could again be held in bank units with federal deposit insurance.
Using a strategy sometimes employed by Cruz for entirely different policy reasons, Warren said that with the $1.013 trillion spending package first being considered by the House, her counterparts there should act to strip it out.
"Right now, the fight is in the House. That's the fight we are going to pursue. It is up to the House to strip this out," Warren said. "That's what keeps the government operating. That's what keeps a compromise omnibus bill moving forward without endangering the American taxpayer."
Of course, anything other than swift passage of the bipartisan, bicameral agreement would risk a shutdown. Federal funding expires Thursday, and the House is expected to move a very short-term continuing resolution just to fill in the gap before the bill's enactment. House and Senate negotiators at the Appropriations Committee have been working pretty much continuously since the outcome of the November elections were clear to put the package together. Extraneous and unrelated provisions were added at the leadership level.
Senate Appropriations Democrats, led by Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., worked to eliminate as many unwanted riders as possible given the reality that Republicans will control both sides of the Capitol in 2015. Provisions wiped out included an effort to subject the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the brainchild of Warren — to the vicissitudes of the appropriations process. Mikulski and company also secured additional funding for other financial regulators.
Warren acknowledged the work done by fellow Democrats in the negotiations, but she seemed to be drawing a line at the "swaps" language.
"I understand that we have worked really hard to push a lot of terrible provisions that the Republicans wanted to put into this bill — to push them out, so they're not there. But what I also understand is that what is in here is risky," Warren said. "It is risky for our economy. ... This Congress can't be here to say what can we do to improve the profitability of a half-dozen large institutions and shove all the risk off to the American people again. This Congress has to stand for a little more safety and security in our financial system."
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., the majority whip, would not say how he plans to vote on the spending package noting that the provisions weakening Dodd-Frank were worrisome.
"It sure is," Durbin said when if the provisions were problematic, but Durbin said that he was still reviewing the package.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., a progressive Democrat who is retiring at the end of the session, said he plans to vote for the bill, but questioned how the provisions weakening Dodd-Frank ended up there.
"I'll be voting for it. I'll be voting to keep the government open," Levin told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
"Where does it come from?" Levin asked. He said he does intend to find out, but doesn't expect to get an answer in the next 48 hours. He argued that the provision appears to reward banks that caused the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.
"These are the banks that caused the problem to begin with … by risky bets, now we are saying more banks can engage in risky bets and, by the way, the risk being to the taxpayers," Levin said.
Levin said Democratic lawmakers will have to weigh swallowing the provision against shutting down the government.
"Somebody has got a hell of a lot of power that was able to get that kind of a provision eliminated in this bill. It's got no business in this bill," Levin said. "Now, what do people like me do who want to keep the government going? I end up voting for the bill."
On the House side, Republican leadership was letting it be known that the package unveiled by the Appropriations Committee represented the final deal, meaning that a rejection would lead to a continuing resolution keeping the government on auto-pilot until the GOP is in charge. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer told reporters that Democrats were waiting for more details on the possibility of stripping the provision.
"The Leader is talking to the Speaker, and we're hopeful that they will take it out. It is obviously very controversial. And many of our members are very concerned about it, and they're not going to make any determination until they find out what's going to happen with that," Hoyer said. "So, we're still in a holding pattern."
"It ain't over till it's over," Hoyer said, channeling his inner Yogi Berra.
Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report. The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.