The “one bill to rule them all,” 2,232-page, gargantuan, swamp-beast omnibus emerged from the smoke-filled bowels of congressional leadership earlier this week and passed both House and Senate mere hours after it was unveiled. The legislation spends $1.3 trillion in taxpayer dollars, busts the budget caps imposed back in 2011, and will lead to trillions of spending each and every year, ad infinitum, with interest payments on the massive federal debt to outpace the cost of the military and the cost of Medicaid in just eight short years. But at least we don’t have to worry about a government shutdown—in 2018, that is.
For nearly two decades now, we’ve watched this charade. Despite Republican promises of fiscal responsibility, they continue to spend like drunken sailors on holiday. That our elected leaders chose to blow this much money without even the pretense of having read the bill is both shocking and disgusting. And yet most of us remain complacent and continue about our daily routines. We barely blink as Congress binges on $1.3 trillion in unpaid-for federal spending. Not that long ago, a bill hammered out in secret caused the House to revolt against then-speaker John Boehner. Yet today’s secretly negotiated package fails to crack even the front page, as we’re treated instead to the minute details of Trump’s alleged affair with a Playboy model. This is our American version of bread and circuses, paid for on credit.
Part of the problem is that the characters and their lines hardly vary from year to year. The battle lines are well-known, the talking points well-worn, the rank hypocrisy monotonously commonplace.
Senator Rand Paul, who singlehandedly stalled a sweeping budget deal last month in protest of the GOP’s deficit spending, groused that the current bill is a “rotten, terrible, no good way to run your government.” But like Jeremiah crying out in a desert of fiscal irresponsibility, the handful of responsible senators’ and House Freedom Caucus members’ warnings continue to go unheeded.
Instead we get the mushy rationalizations of Speaker Paul Ryan. “No bill of this size is perfect,” Ryan said ahead of the House vote. “But this legislation addresses important priorities and makes us stronger at home and abroad.”
What’s left unsaid is that Republicans should have been debating and amending spending bills on the House floor all year, instead of waiting with bated breath for the secret omnibus to drop. Instead they’ve coughed up a hairball that breaks every promise to rein in spending that they’ve yet made. The bill substantially boosts both the military and domestic budgets; it funds Planned Parenthood, ropes off funding for a concrete border wall, fails to defund sanctuary cities, and codifies the $143 billion February busting of the budget caps for the remainder of this fiscal year. All this comes on the heels of a $130 billion hike in government spending during the last fiscal year of Obama’s presidency.
The omnibus funds a long list of dubious priorities, which Senator Paul took the time to tweet out Thursday afternoon and evening. Paul’s discoveries are worth quoting at length: “$1m for the Cultural Antiquities Task Force, $6.25m for the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, $20m for countering foreign state propaganda, $12m for countering state disinformation and pressure, $1.371bn for contributions to international organizations, $51m to promote international family planning and reproductive health, $7m promoting international conservation, $10m for UN Environmental Programs, $1m for the World Meteorological Organization,” along with “$218m for Promoting Democracy Development in Europe (yep..the birthplace of democracy needs promoting),” and “$25m for International Religious Freedom, $10m for disadvantaged Egyptian students, $12m for scholarships for Lebanon, $20m for Middle East Partnership Initiative Scholarship Program, $12m in military funding for Vietnam, $3.5m in nutrition assistance to Laos, $15m in developmental assistance to China, $10m for Women LEOs in Afghanistan.”
And then this: “Page 376 of terrible, rotten, no-good budget busting bill: I found it! I found it! Border security, what President Trump wanted! no . . .wait a minute section says Defense can spend what funds it determines to enhance the border security of Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Tunisia.”
One need not have a very long memory to recall when the very same Republicans who voted for this massive spending package were calling for fiscal restraint and for members to read bills.
“Open up the process. Let people participate.… When we rush to pass bills a lot of us do not understand—we are not doing our job. Only a fully functioning House can truly represent the people,” Paul Ryan said in October 2015.
The House GOP in its 2010 “Pledge to America” promised: “We will 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.” It added: “We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives. No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public. Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on.”
This astonishing about-face, performed only after Republicans had full control of the House, Senate, and presidency, would appear comical if the matter wasn’t so serious. The national debt just surpassed $21 trillion. That’s a staggering $161,000 per taxpayer. And it only gets worse from here: our government spends nearly $7 million per minute, and the national debt is projected to reach a whopping $24.9 trillion by 2027. The Social Security trust fund is already insolvent: no wonder 94 percent of Millennials believe Social Security won’t be able to provide for them when they retire.
Yet our legislators weren’t even given time to read their own bill. The Senate passed the omnibus 65 to 32, thanks to both Republican and Democratic support. That’s bipartisan cooperation for you.
George Orwell might as well have been referring to Congress when he wrote, “Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” After all those years of Republican insurgency, the new boss is now the same as the old.
Barbara Boland is the former weekend editor of the Washington Examiner. Her work has been featured on Fox News, the Drudge Report, HotAir.com, RealClearDefense, RealClearPolitics, and elsewhere. She’s the author of Patton Uncovered, a book about General Patton in World War II, and is a summa cum laude graduate of Immaculata University. Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC.