Politics & Government

Rep. Heck says too many non-spending policies were tucked into federal spending bill

U.S. Rep. Denny Heck said Monday that he voted against the more than $1 trillion federal budget bill last week that averted a government shutdown, even though it had $39 million for one of his pet budget projects, a new Evergreen Elementary School at Joint Base Lewis McChord that serves special-needs students.

The Olympia Democrat said the budget bill had too many policy decisions embedded in it. H.R. 83 passed the House by a vote of 219-206 late Thursday and cleared the Senate on Saturday,

One policy change Heck objected to in particular allows wealthy contributors to dramatically boost the amounts of money they give to political parties — up roughly tenfold to nearly $800,000. It also authorized several billion dollars for fighting the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria, a growing U.S. involvement in the region that Heck said should first receive a “full-throated” debate in Congress. He said he is concerned about “creeping” U.S. military involvement in the Mideast.

“This was my first exposure to this ‘Let’s take a big handful of crap and keep putting it in the budget bill.’ It bothered me,” Heck said during his quarterly sit-down with The Olympian’s editorial board.

He also called the omnibus spending measure “a bridge too far on the non-appropriations.”

The budget passed the House late in the week with all four Washington state Republicans voting in favor. Five Democrats, including Heck and Rep. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor, were opposed; Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Bellevue did not vote.

Voting Saturday in the Senate, the state’s two Democratic senators were split, with Sen. Maria Cantwell opposed and Sen. Patty Murray in favor.

Cantwell voted against it on grounds it undid an element of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms of 2010 that put new limits on the financial industry for trading in so-called derivative investments — in effect making sure that financial institutions’ losses on trades in financial derivatives were not covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

But Heck on Monday disputed the charge that it was a roll-back of Dodd-Frank’s protections and said he had voted for the same change in law in a free standing bill previously that passed the full House. He said it lets banks trade derivatives, which are used to hedge against investment losses, inside the banks and that former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and other Fed officials found the change reasonable.

“This is not, as people commonly think, the bank engaging in proprietary trading with their own money,” Heck said. “This is the bank covering a position — this is a hedge — for a loan they have made.’’

Heck said he continues to support pillars of financial reform that prohibit proprietary trading by banks and that boost the amount of money or capital that systemically significant mega-banks must hold in reserve against losses — and others such as “stress” tests for larger financial institutions.

Heck also said that all but a couple of 29 anti-environmental proposals in the budget early on were stripped out before final passage.

The congressman, who won re-election to a second term last month, said he also recently finished writing a book that is partly a memoir. Heck — who once served as state House majority leader and as chief of staff to a governor, and who co-founded the TVW public-affairs network before growing wealthy as an entrepreneur — said he is still looking for a publisher.