Call it the ‘Omni-bust’ spending bill

Call it the ‘Omni-bust’ spending bill
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If you were hoping that Republicans would finally live up to their promise of being the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility, you’ll just have to keep hoping.

Members of Congress refer to their just-passed government-funding legislation as the “omnibus spending bill.” But “omni-bust” would better describe it, because it reveals all the ways Congress is busted.

The appropriations process

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Under the normal appropriations process, what’s referred to as “regular order,” there are 12 different appropriations bills that fund the federal government. That process is busted — at least in the Senate.

 

In September, the House of Representatives passed all 12 “approps” bills under the title “Make America Secure and Prosperous Act.” However, several Republican members of Congress, writing in The Hill, say it was the first time in 14 years all approps bills passed the House in time, though Republicans have controlled the House since 2011.

How many of these bills has the Senate passed? Zero.

So how many of the approps bills has the Senate at least considered? Don’t ask.

Because the Senate did not do its job, Congress had to fall back on an omni-bust bill. The other alternative was a continuing resolution (CR), which perpetuates current spending levels, perhaps with a few tweaks.

This budget process has been going on for years, with more than 100 CRs since 1996. Because efforts to fund the government always seem to go to the last minute, members turn to an omni-bust or a CR to avoid a government shutdown.

Republicans keep saying, especially during their campaigns, they want to get back to regular order. Heck, even some Democrats are saying that. But they have failed so many times there’s little point in believing them anymore.

Fiscal responsibility 

Fiscal responsibility isn’t a difficult concept: Revenue equals expenditures — more or less. States have to do it, though they often play games with the numbers. Families have to do it too, though some also play games with the numbers. Congress doesn’t have to do it — and so it never does.

The problem for Republicans is they claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility. But you’d never know it by their actions, especially when they control all three branches of government. It didn’t happen between 2001 and 2007, when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House. As a result of their failure, voters decided to give Democrats control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. How much worse could Democrats be, they asked? 

Much worse, it turns out. Federal debt grew on average about $1 trillion a year for the eight years Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaIraq is not yet lost, but if we continue to ignore it, it soon will be Obama praises marathon runners Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei for 'remarkable examples of humanity's ability' Each of us has a role in preventing veteran suicide MORE was president.

Republicans whined about out-of-control spending under Obama and asked voters to put them back in charge. Voters did, over several election cycles. In response, Republicans ended the “sequester” spending restraints, which kept a lid on spending, and most recently pushed through this $1.3 trillion bill that has something for everyone.

Indeed, the Democrats are so happy with the omni-bust they were bragging how many of their spending priorities they got in the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor's race then 'enjoy the game' MORE (D-N.Y.) got funding for his Gateway tunnel, albeit indirectly because the money was funneled to other agencies which can be redirected to the tunnel. In order to fix a glitch in the recent tax-cut legislation, Republicans had to give Democrats more funding for low-income housing, and that after House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE said he wanted to reform welfare.

As a result of this spending blowout, Republicans have been either defensive — claiming they funded the president’s priorities, though the president doesn’t seem to agree — or have trashed the bill, claiming that they and their leadership need to do better. 

It appears that the only time Republicans at least try to live up to their claims of being the party of fiscal responsibility is when Democrats are in control. 

Transparency

When Democrats rammed through the Affordable Care Act, Republicans wailed that Democrats created a 2,700-page bill that no one had read — which was true. 

With the omni-bust, Republicans pushed through a 2,232-page bill that no one had time — or the stomach — to read. They wanted to get it done and get the heck outta town, no doubt so they could campaign on the need for greater fiscal responsibility. 

The public and the media frequently complain that Washington is broken. But it’s hard to tell which is worse: the busted process or the busted promises. The latest omni-bust spending bill implies it’s both. 

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.