January 15, 2014

Thrown Under the Omnibus

Congress grinds out another behemoth spending bill that no one will like.

With the legislative branch of the federal government divided as it is, getting work accomplished is much like herding cats. For example, one of the most basic functions of Congress is to enact a budget for the following fiscal year, but over the last decade or so the nation has increasingly relied on giant “omnibus” spending bills as stopgap measures to avoid the dreaded government shutdown. The latest case is a $1.1 trillion discretionary behemoth that serves as a compromise no one really likes but both sides will likely vote for in order to keep the government going for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

> Update: The House passed the bill late Wednesday, 359-67. Three Democrats and 64 Republicans opposed it.

Negotiated through the appropriations chairs of both the House and Senate – Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), respectively – the headline restorations went to the failed federal Head Start program, which is now back to what’s considered “full funding,” and a 1% raise for federal workers. But the TSA will endure a $336 million cut, and not all veterans were given back the pension cuts they lost in a previous budget deal. So we can fund a worthless preschool program but not veterans benefits. That reflects extremely poor priorities on Capitol Hill, but what else is new?

Congress continues to get itself into this position year after year because members can’t seem to pass the dozen or so departmental appropriations packages in a timely fashion. Normally spring is the time the budget begins to come together, but in an election year political posturing and thoughts of re-election seem to take precedence.

So around the middle of September we will probably go through all this again just to push the day of reckoning past the election, and the cycle of uncertainty and deficit spending will continue. It’s a heck of a way to run a country.

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