Congress is back from celebrating Presidents’ Day by taking most of the month off, or will be back in full force on Tuesday, anyway. In the House, the significant business will be a meeting of the Rules committee to consider the only significant bill it’s going to consider this week. That legislation is an effort to rescind what they’re calling a “woke” Department of Labor regulation.
The rule simply allows retirement plans to consider environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) factors when investing on behalf of plan participants, just as long as the investments are in the best financial interest for them. It’s not even a directive telling fiduciaries that they must prioritize ESG investments, just that they can. The reason the GOP is so up in arms about it: It’s overturning a disruptive and problematic Trump rule that explicitly tried to stop those investments. In the meantime, the House GOP still hasn’t passed two of the “first week” priorities—on abortion and immigration—because they can’t get the votes.
They also haven’t managed to coalesce behind any kind of budget, a prerequisite for making demands on raising the debt ceiling. So far, the only idea that’s seeming to get some traction with the maniacs is the one from whack-job former Trump appointee Russell Vought, to gut everything except Medicare and Social Security.
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The effort to rescind the Department of Labor rule could see some success, both in the House and Senate. The congressional review act, the procedure that allows them to veto the administration’s rules, takes a simple majority to pass—it’s not subject to the filibuster in the Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin (Big Oil-WV) is already on board with the Republicans because he’s Joe Manchin. A few others—Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Angus King (I-ME)—are undecided. Also, Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) remains out while being treated for clinical depression. Biden can and probably will veto the bill if Congress does indeed go there. That would be his first veto.
Let’s be clear, though; this is simple toxic partisanship. There’s nothing that’s good for investors—or the pension plans—in it. “It defies logic,” Robert Eccles, a visiting professor of management practice at the Oxford University Saïd Business School, told Bloomberg Law. “If Republicans can somehow tell pension fund managers to override their fiduciary duty for returns and to not take account of material environmental and social factors, these returns are going to suffer.”
Which makes what’s happening over on the Senate side Monday ironic. Republican Sen. James Lankford (OK) is going to take on the annual reading of George Washington’s Farewell Address. That’s how the Senate commemorates Washington’s birthday, a nice tradition in which Senators read all the words, and in the case of Republicans, ignore all the warnings.
Washington warned the people, and the Congress, of disunity. “You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together,” Washington declared. “The Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes,” he continued. “Your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty and…the love of the one ought to endear you to the preservation of the other.”
He also warned against putting loyalty to a political party over loyalty to the nation, and sounded pretty damned prescient. He cautioned that a “spirit of revenge” could overcome the spirit of governance, and give rise to “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” who would “usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
”The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”
At the top of Washington’s mind (and that of Alexander Hamilton, who drafted the address) was the idea of some restoration of a monarchy—the U.S. being ruled by a king, the authoritarianism of the day. It’s a warning that Lankford will read and all the Republicans who bother to listen will hear, without bothering to internalize. Without recognizing just what they did in allowing Trump to happen. Without recognizing how they’re continuing on a path to the destruction of the nation, one little bill at a time.