The spending bill: 1,582 pages of dismay
The bipartisan Murray-Ryan budget agreement has now been “fleshed out” into an omnibus spending bill, as Fox News puts it. It’s 1,582 pages long, which is a lot of flesh. If you plan on reading it before your representatives vote, you’d better get cracking, because you only have until tomorrow afternoon, even though Republicans promised there would be minimum 72-hour review periods for legislation when they took control of the House in 2010. Based on media accounts, the bill seems to have most of the strengths and weaknesses of the Murray-Ryan outline; its primary strength is how deeply disappointed everyone on both sides of the aisle finds it, which makes it a “bipartisan” compromise in dismay. Hey, it’s the best your bloated mega-government can do.
Fox News feels the seismic tremors from hundreds of shoulders shrugging in unison on Capitol Hill:
To be sure, there is plenty for both parties to oppose in the legislation. Conservatives face a vote to fund implementation of President Obama’s health care overhaul and Wall Street regulations, both enacted in 2010 over solid Republican opposition. If history is any guide, conservative provisions on environmental and abortion policy will be tossed overboard.
But conservatives can take heart that overall spending for daily agency operations has been cut by $79 billion, or 7 percent, from the high-water mark established by Democrats in 2010. That cut increases to $165 billion, or 13 percent, when cuts in war funding and disaster spending are accounted for.
Liberals are more likely to climb aboard, but only after voting to give Obama about $6 billion more in Pentagon war funding than the $79 billion he requested. The additional war money is helping the Pentagon deal with a cash crunch in troop readiness accounts. Including foreign aid related to overseas security operations, total war funding reaches $92 billion, a slight cut from last year.
The alternative, however, is to allow automatic spending cuts to strike for a second year and even risk another government shutdown if Congress deadlocks.
Are we sure we don’t want to try another partial shutdown? The last one gave us the only decent month of job growth we’ve had in a while.
So how does Congress make itself choke down this melancholy compromise? Sweeteners, my friends. Sweeteners.
At the same time, the bill is laced with sweeteners, including the provision exempting disabled veterans from a pension cut enacted last month to help pay for the budget relief in the spending bill. It contains increases for veterans’ medical care backed by both sides and fully funds food aid for low-income pregnant women and their children. The National Institutes of Health is sure to fall short of the $31 billion budget it won when Democrats controlled Congress.
Though the bill provides the billions in aid to Egypt, it also places conditions on the aid and leaves it up to the Obama administration to determine if Egypt qualifies. The country has seen political turmoil over the past couple of years after the ouster of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
The bill requires Egypt to pursue democracy, seek to enforce the rule of law, honor human rights and adhere to agreements with Israel. If not, it’s possible the US could pull the aid. Aid to Israel is also included in the bill.
Well, as long as the rest of the world is getting paid, I guess American taxpayers can’t complain too much. Technically giving another $1.5 billion to Egypt is illegal, because the current government seized power in a coup, and there is a law against providing financial assistance to such a government, even when they’re a huge improvement over the Muslim Brotherhood nutters they displaced. Fortunately, we’re well past the point where anyone expects the government to obey its own laws, or follow the correct procedure for modifying them.
The Washington Post adds that the bill “would fully restore cuts to Head Start, partially restore cuts to medical research and job training programs, and finance new programs to combat sexual assault in the military. It would also give all federal workers a 1 percent raise.” However, “in a blow to the District, it provides only partial funding to continue constructing buildings for the Department of Homeland Security’s campus in Anacostia.” Take that, Leviathan State!
It’s good to know Head Start funding will be plumped back up, because Uncle Sam loves expensive, useless programs whose termination can be portrayed as cruelty to children. With the world in chaos after five years of Obama foreign policy, and al-Qaeda’s influence at an all-time high, this might not be the best time to cut military spending, but since that’s the only spending Democrats are ever interested in cutting, it’s bound to be part of any successful deal. At least disabled veterans will be spared from those pension cuts, and the federal worker bees are only getting a 1 percent raise, not to mention giving up part of the funding for that new bureaucracy theme park they wanted in Anacostia. It all balances out, see?
Just wait until the next omnibus spending bill prices in the ObamaCare insurance industry bailout! It’ll be interesting to see what kind of “sweeteners” it takes to chug that toxic brew.
The Washington Post goes into great detail about the contents of the spending bill, and finds a few items worthy of celebration:
The Department of Homeland Security would face a reduction in funding of about $336 million, with most of the cuts at the scandal-ridden Transportation Security Administration. In a victory for Republicans who have sought for years to boost the use of private security contractors, the agreement increases funding for private security screeners and caps the TSA’s overall screening personnel at 46,000.
The agreement is riddled with dozens of controversial policy riders. One would bar funding to enforce the Obama administration’s new standard that would ban the use of incandescent light bulbs. The proposal was an early environmental policy victory for the White House, but the old bulbs remain widely popular.
The measure would continue a ban on transferring terrorism detainees at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to sites in the United States. It would also withhold additional funding for the government of Afghanistan until the country agrees to a new bilateral security agreement. And the measure would ban foreign aid for Libya until Secretary of State John F. Kerry “confirms Libyan cooperation” with ongoing investigations into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack at the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.
[...] Several issues regarding gun control are also included in the bill. The legislation restricts the Justice and Homeland Security departments from establishing programs similar to the “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking effort. In response to allegations that the administration has been stockpiling ammunition for use by federal agents, the measure also requires Homeland Security to provide detailed reports on its purchase and use of ammunition.
The measure also continues a ban on the use of federal funding to perform most abortions, including abortions in the District and for federal prisoners. But Republicans agreed to jettison other contentious proposals, including a ban on new federal regulations for greenhouse gases and the “global gag rule,” which sought to prohibit U.S. funding for organizations that give women information about abortion.
We might get our light bulbs back? That would make it easier to read the next omnibus spending bill. Alas, the Church of Global Warming will be able to keep bleeding American industry with other madcap regulations, but maybe the post-2014 Congress can address that problem.
Perhaps this sort of compromise is to be expected from a divided Congress with a big-spending President holding the veto pen. There’s little chance the Republicans were going to fight like wildcats to get a better deal, although they did promise to fight like wildcats this time, the last time they explained why they didn’t feel up to a savage battle. But next time, if they can get the Senate in 2014, their fury for limited government will resemble a cross between the Tasmanian Devil and Wolverine. They might even insist on holding the President to his legal obligations and preparing a rational budget plan for the gigantic federal government, instead of driving us to insolvency in the omnibus – a curious vehicle that has a trillion forward gears, nothing in reverse, and a clutch that takes tendon-popping effort to depress.