On Friday, the House and Senate passed an omnibus spending bill, which is a bit like passing a kidney stone, except it’s much more painful and expensive. This particular bill included a number of measures to address three entirely different topics: student loan rates, highway construction, and flood insurance.
Those three subjects have nothing to do with each other, but packaging them together made it far more difficult to vote against any specific portion of it. Oppose the extension of those famous subsidized student loan rates, and you’re against highway construction. Express reservations against all that highway spending, and you’re against low-interest student loans and flood insurance.
Political pressures had been cooked up to make each of those individual votes difficult; load them into the same omnibus, and the resulting legislative vehicle is nearly unstoppable. In the end, only 52 Republican members of the House, and 19 Republican senators, voted against it. Big Government got bigger, and Broke Government went further into debt.
Billions of dollars were poured into one of the murkiest cash pits of the federal government, the highway trust fund. The Government Accountability Office figures that a good 38 percent of this money is used for purposes other than highway and bridge construction. Swarms of lobbyists feed from the highway trust fund like remora attached to a great white shark.
Meanwhile, more easy money will be pumped into the university system, where tuition rates have been rising far more rapidly than health-care costs have increased. College tuition, according to a 2011 report from Moody’s Analytics, has been growing even faster than real estate appreciation grew during the housing bubble. A U.S. News account of the Moody’s study noted that “Student loans have grown at double-digit rates throughout the last decade. And while that growth has slowed in the last two years, it remains above 10 percent at a time when there has been a decline in every other form of consumer lending.”
But instead of defusing that bubble, Congress is giving it another infusion of helium, alleviating all cost and benefit pressures by continuing to subsidize absurdly low rates for massive student loans. As with the housing bubble, everyone will act duly shocked when the student loan bubble pops, and immediately begin looking for anyone except the government to blame.
This omnibus bill is another illustration of how Big Government grows, using its flabby girth as leverage to demand further growth, while the rare votes in favor of fiscal sanity become increasingly symbolic. No longer do we have rational discussions of the merits, and cost, of individual ideas. It’s either “yea” or “nay” for huge wish lists, and in order to oppose any of it, our representatives must vote against all of it.
But just in case you’re worried Congress has no standards whatsoever about rolling unrelated issues into these gigantic spending bills, there is one thing that got clipped out of the student highway flood loan insurance construction stimulus bill: approval for the Keystone XL pipeline.