Dec 19 2019
It’s December, Mr./Madam President. And so America’s attention turns once again to the great debate of our times: which is the best Christmas movie? White Christmas? Elf? A Christmas Story? Die Hard? I’m partial to It’s a Wonderful Life myself.
We have to debate the best Christmas movie that we all watch every year because there really is no debate about the worst. The worst Christmas movie is the one that runs every year on C-Span the week before Our Savior’s birthday: it’s called Omnibus.
Critics and fans have loved to hate it for years. And as is always the case in money-grabbing sequels, the actors and writers and directors are all just mailing it in.
The only plot-twist this time around is that instead of a continuing resolution or single omnibus, leaders and appropriators have put the single negotiated spending agreement into two bills, so that we can all pretend it’s better than just one. Even though they were negotiated at the same time, released to the public at the same time, and will be voted on within minutes of each other.
The secretive, undemocratic, irresponsible process that produced this bill is a sham. But then again, so is the substance.
It’s been like this for years now. Instead of actively setting and passing budgets to stay within – as we expect from any other organization – we make it up as we go along, in as abusive and dysfunctional a manner as the American people will let us get away with.
The last time Congress passed its respective appropriations bills – unbundled and on time – was in 1997.
For this Fiscal Year, we have already passed 2 continuing resolutions.
Now, an omnibus bill in and of itself does not necessarily have to be a bad thing.
An omnibus could, in theory, be a decent legislative vehicle – if members of the House and Senate were given time to read it, and to debate and amend its different components.
But unfortunately, that is never the case anymore. These bills are written behind closed doors, by a small handful of leaders from the two parties – thousands of pages, spending trillions of dollars and released to public scrutiny within a few hours of a government shutdown.
This we call “bipartisanship.”
And like too much of what Washington calls “bipartisanship” these days, these spending bills are a fiscal dumpster fire.
Discretionary spending will be set at record-high levels in nearly every category.
This omnibus will add $2.1 trillion to the national debt over the next 20 years. By that time, we will be spending more on interest on the debt than we do on national defense.
This is embarrassing, Mr./Madam President.
When we had a trillion-dollar deficit after the 2008 financial crisis, everyone admitted it was reckless and out of control—even President Obama. And now we are borrowing just as much… at the top of the business cycle, with wages up and unemployment at record lows.
It’s an awful, corrupt cycle on repeat. Congress breaks its own spending rules, creates new ones to spend more, and then breaks the new ones and tries to hide the evidence – racking up ever more national debt all the while.
What’s worse, we are willingly putting the brunt of the cost on future generations.
Gorging ourselves on debt – to the tune of another trillion dollars each year – means that we are saddling our children and our children’s children with the bill. And setting ourselves up for disaster come the inevitable next recession.
John F. Kennedy famously said “to govern is to choose.” But Congress’s defining dysfunction is that it doesn’t choose. We don’t budget. We don’t reform. We don’t prioritize. We just spend, and hope we’re retired or dead when the bill for our negligence and recklessness comes due.
Not only does this package feature reckless spending, but it includes many bills that it should not – funding broken, inefficient, and even harmful programs.
For instance, this bill reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program – a program that subsidizes beachfront properties right in the middle of dangerous flood plains, and which is already $20.5 billion in debt to American taxpayers – for a full year without a single reform.
It maintains the broken status quo for Overseas Contingency Operations, the Pentagon’s increasingly unaccountable slush fund – insulated from scrutiny and unchecked by budget caps. The deal appropriates another $71.5 billion for OCO, a $4 billion increase from last year.
This only days after America learned that civilian and military leaders have been lying to the American people for years – across multiple presidential administrations – about our failures in Afghanistan.
Instead of reform or oversight, these bills would put another $4.1 billion into the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund and limit our ability to negotiate peace and bring the war in Afghanistan to an end.
In an era of rampant fake news, even the media is outperforming Congress on this issue.
These bills include $495 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund – a 13% increase from the last fiscal year, and the highest appropriation it has had in 17 years – for a program that has been of particular detriment to my state of Utah.
The LWCF has been used as a tool for the federal government to greedily acquire more lands, even as it is failing to care for the lands it already owns, with a current maintenance backlog of $19.4 billion.
Worse, in addition to funding broken programs, this package funds blatant, abusive cronyism.
The bill reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank -- Washington’s favorite corporate favor bank, which doles out taxpayer-backed loans to help American exporters – for a full seven years, without so much as a word of debate.
The biggest recipient of Ex-Im funds is Pemex – Mexico’s infamous, corrupt, state-owned oil company. So corrupt, in fact, that its own employees collaborate with Mexico’s drug cartels to facilitate the theft of their best oil.
And ranked right after Pemex is the People’s Republic of China, whose state-owned enterprises are granted generous American taxpayer-backed financing for purchases they could fund through their own communist government.
The reauthorization even includes provisions instructing the Bank to pretend it is helping Americans to compete against China, at the same time that it is sending that very government billions of dollars.
And then there is the extension of the Brand USA Act: a 7-year reauthorization of a government-chartered non-profit, Brand USA, to use tens of millions of federal dollars to advertise for tourism.
To top things off, a last-minute tax-extenders deal was added to the package late on Monday night – diverting billions of dollars on central economic planning and picking winners and losers in the marketplace.
Over the next 10 years, the package provides about $2.7 billion in tax benefits through programs that use the tax code to incentivize businesses to invest in government-selected neighborhoods, seeking to control the flow of investment instead of relying on the free market.
And it includes naked handouts to cronyist, special interests.
For example, it spends over $2.1 billion on subsidies for the energy sector – awarding $113 million for coal production on Indian lands, $331 million for facilities to refuel alternative fuel vehicles, and $1.5 billion for biodiesel and renewable diesel tax credits.
Beyond these, it hands out $187 million in write-offs for owners of motorsport entertainment complexes…
… $18 million in tax breaks for the production of movies and TV shows…
… and $3 million in tax credits for the purchasers of two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles, to name just a few examples.
No, it is safe to say that this package does not have the best interests of all Americans at heart.
And not only that, but it features new levels of absurdity, too.
This deal actually includes a special-interest bailout to make up for the failures of a faulty pension plan… while at the same time authorizing another pension plan to follow in its same footsteps.
Congress authorized a group of coal miners’ multiemployer pension plans under problematic rules, allowing them to underfund the plans by over 70%.
But all the while, those pensions still promised their workers full benefits – setting up unreasonable expectations for their return on investment.
Inevitably, they have not made up the shortfall… and now taxpayers are being forced to bail them out.
And in this very same bill in which we are bailing out the coal miners’ pensions, we are authorizing a select group of community newspapers to follow the same practice: allowing them to once again underfund their workers’ pensions, while again promising them full benefits.
With this bill, we are rubberstamping the expectation that employers can raid their workers’ promised retirement benefits for short-term gain… and setting the precedent that the government will reward this bad practice by bailing them out when it inevitably fails.
This bill does include some good measures, however, that I support – like repealing the medical device tax, fixing a tax provision that would unfairly subject churches to more taxes, and making retirement account reforms that allow Americans to access these funds in times of particular need.
And sadly, I will be forced to vote against these measures because they have been lumped into this massive package as a whole.
The thing about these omnibuses is that they put us in a take-it-or-leave it situation. We are given no choice but to support or oppose the whole thing – good and bad measures alike.
Unfortunately, just like every other episode in this squalid saga, Omnibus 2: The Bussening will come to a predictable, sorry ending. Congress will pass this mess – indulging in a process, substance, and long-term result that are all an affront to the viewers.
Because at the end of the day, the audience members are the real-life victims.
I yield the floor.
As prepared for delivery.