With much fanfare in the midst of their campaign to take back control of the House of Representatives, House Republicans unveiled their Pledge to America. Many conservatives thought it was an enormous missed opportunity to lock a new Republican majority into a bold reform agenda. But House Republicans said that they wanted to under promise and over deliver. Who knew their conservative critics would end up being the keeper of their low expectations?
Unfortunately, Leadership’s commitment to their Pledge deteriorated quickly upon taking control. The Pledge called for a $100 billion cut in nondefense spending, but since this was going to be too hard in an abbreviated fiscal year, they decided to “prorate” that amount. Conservatives at the Republican Study Committee fought their Leadership and got them closer to $100 billion, but not all the way.
However, the Pledge also promised to transform the way the House of Representatives as an institution would be run. They promised to end the practice of packaging spending bills and other related legislation into so-called “omnibus” bills. Specifically, House Republicans pledged to “end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with ‘must pass’ legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.”
Since it doesn’t actually say the word omnibus, did they mean something else? No, the passage was widely known to mean an end to omnibus bills. In fact, according to an October 2010 post on Speaker Boehner’s own blog, “House Republicans have also called for an end to the practice of passing massive ‘omnibus’ spending bills, arguing such bills make it too difficult to cut spending and too easy to shield spending projects from public scrutiny and debate.”
Now, House Republicans are about to violate this pledge too. They are packaging three spending bills together in a so-called “minibus,” combining the Agriculture, Transportation-HUD, and Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bills, but this simply amounts to playing games with names to save face. The bill would violate the House-passed, Ryan budget by at least $13 billion. Here is one example of why the bill costs so much that illustrates the logic of Congressional appropriators. According to CQ, “[the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program] would receive $6.6 billion. That is $570 million more than the House-passed Agriculture bill and $36 million more than Senate appropriators had recommended.” What sort of degenerate negotiating is this?
It would also include a very troubling provision to expand Federal Housing Administration (FHA) subsidies up to $729,750 mortgages. Never mind that FHA is going broke, and this provision could prove to be an accelerator on a future taxpayer bailout . According to a Reuters article this morning, an FHA audit recently revealed that its cash reserves are so low, “that there is close to a 50% chance it could run out of funds and may require a taxpayer bailout next year.” FHA is leveraged 300-to-1, with roughly only $3 billion in reserves to cover its $1 trillion portfolio. Given that the minimum downpayment for FHA loans is only 3.5%, most of these FHA borrowers have little equity in their homes. Did we not learn the colossal stupidity of this sort of economic policy as a nation during the financial crisis in 2008? For instance, the GOP Pledge itself says that Fannie and Freddie, “triggered the financial meltdown by giving too many high risk loans to people who couldn’t afford them.” Why does the same logic not apply to FHA loans?
Conservatives in the House would do well to vote no and force their Leadership to “unpackage” these bills, at levels consistent with their own budget resolution and without provisions that will likely lead to future taxpayer bailouts. After all, they made a pledge to the American people to do just that.