There is an important rule - one that runs counter to DC conventional wisdom – that conservatives should heed when considering support for a piece of legislation. No legislation is better than bad legislation. To put that in today's relevant terms, passing no spending bill or a CR is better than passing a $1.050 trillion, 1217-page Omnibus just 36 hours after its inception.
Early this morning, minutes after midnight, the House Appropriations Committee released their omnibus as a package of three bills. They will need to violate even their interpretation of the three-day posting rule if they intend to pass it as a vehicle to avert a government shutdown Friday night. The first bill is the main omnibus appropriations package that bundles nine approps bills at a cost of $915 billion. This, coupled with the three approps bills already passed (via that ridiculous minibus bill) comes out to exactly $1.043 trillion in discretionary spending – the spending cap set under the Budget Control Act. Additionally, the omnibus appropriates another $115 billion for the annual OCO (Overseas Contingency Operations) war spending and $11 billion in war funding for the State Department. The second bill funds emergency disaster spending to a tune of $8.6 billion, while the third bill offsets that spending with further recessions from the discretionary spending totals in the main bill.
Overall, this bill totally vitiates the House budget passed by the entire conference, by appropriating an extra $24 billion in discretionary spending. Also, the fact that they are proposing three bills gives House Democrats the ability to vote for the first two bills, but quash the third bill with the offsets, thereby consummating spending levels higher than those of 2011 ($1.052 trillion).
This entire package, which includes funding for 10 executive departments, will be voted on within the next 36 hours, in violation of two provisions of the Pledge to America; passing Omnibus bills and the 72-hour posting rule. Jeff Flake expressed his exasperation like this:
“We’ve barely seen the bill; it’s an awful big bill to get a vote on that fast.”
“Some riders got in, some got knocked out, and I don’t even know – and I’m on the appropriations committee,” he adds. “Whenever we come to an impasse, our leadership says, we can’t shut the government down. We haven’t had the leverage in any negotiation we’ve gone into. That’s what’s frustrating to me.”
Why are Republicans unilaterally violating their own pledge?
Earlier this week, Democrat and Republican appropriators were on the verge of signing off on the omnibus conference report (not a good thing for conservatives), when Harry Reid, at the behest of the president, pulled the bill. He didn’t want Republicans to pass the omnibus and head home, forcing the Senate to vote up or down on the House payroll tax cut/unemployment benefit extension package. Now Republicans are attempting to unilaterally pass their own omnibus so they can dump both bills on Reid’s lap, and head for the airport.
The problem is they are being clever by the half. In order to advance their payroll tax/UI package, which in itself is not the greatest thing in the world for conservatives, they are selling out their soul on this omnibus.
The details of the policy riders remain very murky, but this is what I am seeing:
While the Financial Services part of the omnibus would block funding to the IRS for enforcing the individual mandates, the HHS-Labor bill would largely preserve Obamacare programs. Some of those HHS agencies will enjoy increased funding. It also preserves most of the funding for the onerous Dodd-Frank regulatory beast and increases funding for the SEC. Also, the HHS component eliminates Republican cuts to Planned Parenthood.
Regarding energy, this bill jettisons virtually every GOP provision to defund EPA regulations, such as new rules covering greenhouse gas, clean air rules, and clean water regulatory schemes. It also appropriates $1.5 billion more than the House budget to the EPA. The only saving grace is that the Energy-Water component of the Omnibus blocks the new ban on incandescent light bulbs.
In terms of foreign aid, while the bill places some restrictions on aid to Pakistan, Egypt, and the Palestinians, ultimately, we will continue to fund them. The bill also eschews most of the restructuring of our UN funding.
The point is that there are so many details that remain unclear at this point. After all, we are trying to vote on almost the entire federal budget in one day. We need to pass these bills one-by-one so we can spotlight all the salient issues. We don’t need to pass the bill so we can find out what’s in it.
As it stands now, it appears that Harry Reid might be willing to release the bipartisan conference report for the omnibus. But this is no solace to conservatives. They should not vote for any omnibus. Period. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that leadership will have the guts to stand by their extenders package with all the riders, even if there is an agreement on the omnibus. There are already some grumblings about Democrats dropping their demand for tax hikes (which were never going to happen anyway) in exchange for a removal of the Keystone pipeline provision (and others too). Moreover, if the GOP omnibus truly cuts parts of Obamacare and mandates rescissions from further discretionary spending, Democrats will never pass it. Republicans will wind up compromising yet again, and summarily gut the few positive riders in the bill. This is not a deal that is worthwhile for conservatives to embrace and break their pledge against voting for omnibus bills.
Conservatives should not let GOP leaders and Harry Reid pocket their good will on the omnibus under the false pretense that Boehner will remain strong on the extenders package. We’ve been through this too many times this year. They should immediately pass a CR at the House-budget spending levels, and get the heck out of town. Then, it will be Reid’s choice whether he wants to force a gov’t shutdown and cancel the payroll tax for his spending levels and policy provisions that were repudiated by the voters. At worst case, a clean CR would still be superior to an omnibus. We would at least have the opportunity to fight again next year, without the political pitfalls of blocking a tax cut extension.
Bottom line: Vote no on any and every form of the omnibus, both the House version and/or the conference report. Oppose any attempt to gut the extenders package from UI reform, cuts to the federal workforce, and the Keystone pipeline rider.
Hold your own line!