Budget Battle Royale
The “CRomnibus” bill pushes through.
Thursday was filled with chaos in the capital. By a razor thin margin, the Republican-controlled House voted in favor of the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” funding bill. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was forced to cajole conservative GOPers to switch their votes after it appeared it was headed for defeat earlier in the day. All of the machinations were aimed at preventing a government shutdown beginning at midnight.
For a brief moment in time early Thursday, the nay votes outnumbered the yeas for the current 1,774-page bill allocating $1.01 trillion of federal spending for FY2015. That’s because conservative Republicans remain infuriated by the reality ObamaCare remains fully funded, save for a $10 million budget cut for Independent Payment Advisory Board, and the president’s executive amnesty program remains funded until February. Nonetheless, $948 million has been allocated for the Department of Health and Human Service’s (DHS) unaccompanied children program, increasing that budget by $80 million, and another $14 million is aimed at helping school districts absorb new immigrant students. Adding insult to conservative injury, the State Department is on track to receive $260 million to assist the Central American countries responsible for the onslaught of children crossing the Southwest border over the summer.
“The fix is in, which I’ve been saying all along,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) following the Republican conference Wednesday morning. “Promises around here–regardless of who they are made by–don’t seem to mean anything,” he added, further explaining that lawmakers’ phones have been “lighting up” with constituents asking them to “do what [they] were elected to do.”
Salmon was one of sixteen Republicans, including Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Dave Brat (R-VA), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Paul Broun (R-GA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Walter Jones (R-NC), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Steve King (R-IA), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Tom Massie (R-KY), Bill Posey (R-FL), and and Steve Stockman (R-TX) who refused to accommodate GOP leadership on the debate vote.
Democrats were equally resistant, with most of their opposition aimed primarily at two riders. The first one waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, allowing Wall Street banks to trade the risky derivatives banned by that bill. The second provision allows wealthy political donors to dramatically increase the amount of money they can donate to national political parties. “Stakeholders from across the progressive community – including the AFL-CIO, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Public Citizen, Communications Workers, Common Cause, and many others – have expressed their opposition to passing a funding bill that includes these dangerous provisions,” said leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), who were urging Democrats to vote no.
Yet many Democrats remained ambivalent due to the 2014 election that eliminated their Senate majority and increased Republican numbers in the House. While they don’t like the CRomnibus, some see it as their last chance to exert any influence over spending while they still retain their Senate majority. Furthermore, they were all aware of the reality that if the bill failed, GOP leadership was prepared to move forward with a shorter alternative.
President Obama offered his support for the package both before and shortly after the vote took place. GOP leadership needed 50-60 Democrats to make up for the likely conservative defectors in their own party, and it appeared the president was well aware of that reality.
Yet even as Obama expressed his support, several Senate Democrats rallied around Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), viewed by many as that party’s newest star, to express their opposition to the aforementioned provisions for Wall Street and political donors. “It’s a very black mark on the omnibus if it comes over to the Senate with that in it. I certainly would consider voting no on it,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) also contended there would be a “problem” if the current language on Dodd-Frank remained intact. Warren remained adamant. “A vote for this bill is a vote for future taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street,” she insisted.
Warren might have a tad more credibility were it not for the reality that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two lending giants at the center of the housing meltdown, will once again be offering 3 percent down payments on mortgages to “qualified” home buyers. Those would be the same Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae left untouched by Dodd-Frank.
Two upsides for conservatives in the package includes a $60 million cut in the EPA’s budget to $8.1 billion. That brings the agency’s budget down a total of 21 percent since 2010, and staffing to its lowest level since 1989. The IRS also takes a $345.6 million hit, and the bill includes a future ban on their now infamous efforts to target organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs.
At 2 p.m. the drama intensified, when House leaders called for a recess instead of a vote, with a GOP aide insisting “leadership teams are still talking to their respective members. We still plan to vote this afternoon,” the aide added. At that point, whether they were voting on the CRomnibus package or a short-term Continuing Resolution remained unclear. The delay indicated GOP leadership was having trouble corralling enough of their own membership, while Nancy Pelosi sought to undercut support by Democrats and Obama with a fiery floor speech, saying she was “enormously disappointed” with the Obama administration.
Ironically, it was a Tea Party congressman defeated by the GOP establishment who managed to get Boehner past the initial hurdle. With the vote tied at 213-213, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) change his no vote to a yes. The outgoing reindeer farmer saved Boehner from enduring a major embarrassment that not only had forced Boehner to cast a vote himself (a rarity), but forced him to keep the vote going after time had officially expired. Frustrated Democrats shouted, “Call the vote,” but the Speaker ignored them until he got the result he wanted.
Irrespective of that vote, Obama’s immigration excesses and the healthcare bill remain sticking points for the GOP. Regarding immigration, GOP leadership posits they’ll be better positioned to take on de facto amnesty a month from now, when they get their Senate majority and larger share of the House. “If you’re gonna start a bar fight, start it when you’ve got as many friends in the bar as you can possibly have. Why would you start it now?” said Boehner ally Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK). A leadership aide echoed that contention, insisting the GOP has an “array of legislative and legal options” they can employ – without specifying any of them. The two flies in the proverbial ointment include an Obama veto, and regardless of funding or lack thereof, how many DHS workers could be deemed “essential,” preventing them from being furloughed. That’s why conservative GOPers preferred to fight using the entire budget as a hammer.
ObamaCare is a different story. Obama still has veto power, but several Democrats, including Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Harry Reid (D-NV), have expressed regret regarding its passage, and ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber embarrassed himself during testimony on Capitol Hill. There was also another video released yesterday in which he claimed he “helped write” the bill. Moreover, the Supreme Court is poised to rule on King v. Burwell, a case where the plaintiffs contend only healthcare exchanges “established by the state” can provide IRS tax subsidies to ObamaCare enrollees. If the Court rules according to the law as written, the roughly 4 to 5 million people now receiving financial assistance would lose it in the 36 states that didn’t set up their own exchanges. And the law, as unpopular as ever with the public, would essentially be gutted. All of this may provide impetus for a bipartisan effort to make majors changes to the law – even changes that might garner enough support to override a veto by Obama.
At around 5:30 p.m. Democrats convened a closed meeting to discuss the bill following a series of phone calls from Obama and Vice President Biden, urging party members to vote for it. Pelosi remained against it, insisting Republicans “don’t have enough votes,” while GOP leadership indicated they could either pass a three-month stop-gap measure avoiding a shutdown, or a weeklong measure giving Boehner more time to marshal support. “We expect the bill to pass with bipartisan support today, but if it does not, we will pass a short-term CR to avoid a government shutdown,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
The American public? Jamming the congressional switchboard with calls most likely opposed to even a temporary funding of Obama’s de facto amnesty, much like a similar wave of calls opposing immigration legislation attempted by both parties in 2006 and 2007.
In the end, the status quo—the member-added pork, the absurd outlays for outrageous inanities, the deficit spending adding to a national debt that now tops $18 trillion, and the public-insulting passage of bills unread by the people who pass them—remains undisturbed. The express train to fiscal oblivion, in a country where national sovereignty is becoming an anachronism in pursuit of cheap labor and cheap votes, and the concerns of the elitist few overwhelm those of an outraged public deemed too “stupid” to know what’s good for them, remains on track.
Originally published at FrontPage Magazine.