Well Mr. President, here we are again: another year of legislative dysfunction capped by an undemocratic, un-republican process that uses the threat of another manufactured crisis to impose on an unwilling country the same broken government policies that have repeatedly failed the people they are supposed to serve.
The bill moving through Congress today and tomorrow – made up of the omnibus spending bill and tax extenders package – and the process that produced it are an affront to the Constitution – to they very idea of constitutionalism – and an insult to the American people.
I'm not even talking about the substance of the bill, which is bad enough and which I'll get into in a moment.
I'm talking about the way it was produced. A small handful of leaders from the two parties got together behind closed doors to decide what the nation’s taxing and spending policies would be for the next year.
And then, after several weeks, the negotiators emerged – grand bargain in hand – confident that the people they deliberately excluded from the policymaking process would now support all 2,242 pages of the legislative leviathan that they cooked up.
This is not how a self-governing – or self-respecting – institution operates, and everyone here knows it.
The leaders who presided over these negotiations were elected, just like the rest of us, to represent the people residing in their state or congressional district, not the entire population of the country.
Yet they just excluded 99 percent of the country from this process, as if their representatives are just partisan seals, trained to bark and clap on cue for their leaders.
That anyone is celebrating this bill as some kind of achievement is just further evidence of how out of touch Washington has become.
Indeed, the very premise of this process – that the establishment leaders of the two parties can accurately and fairly represent 320 million Americans – is itself absurd.
This isn’t just my opinion. It’s the opinion of the vast, and bipartisan, majority of our constituents.
70 percent of the American people think the country is on the wrong track. Congress, for its part, is one of the least-trusted institutions in the country, with a mere 14 percent of Americans approving of the way Congress is doing its job, according to a recent survey. And a dwindling minority of Americans trusts the federal government to do what’s right for the country.
The country doesn’t trust us or respect us, Mr. President. And if we pass this bill and assent to the secretive, undemocratic process behind it, we will be telling the country, loud and clear, that the feeling is mutual.
And all this, Mr. President, is before we even get into the substance.
We’re being told that the omnibus and tax extenders grand bargain is a legislative accomplishment of the highest order – a shining example of what can happen when the two parties in Washington come together to “get things done.”
And, in a sense, I don’t disagree. This bill is the textbook example of how Washington actually works. And that is the problem.
Because all too often, when Washington “works” it does so not for American families, workers, or future generations, but for political elites and the sprawling ecosystem of lobbyists and special interests that subsist on the federal government’s largesse.
This bill is a case study of Washington’s bipartisan bargains turning into special-interest bonanzas. Like so many policies that come out of Congress today, the omnibus and tax extenders have something for everyone.
Maybe you’re a Puerto Rican rum exporter. This bill’s got you covered: it renews an underhanded tax scheme whereby the United States imposes artificially high import taxes on rum from Puerto Rico and then sends the proceeds back to the island’s government.
Perhaps you own a stable of multi-million-dollar racehorses, or a NASCAR speedway. In either case, you’re in luck too, because this bill maintains the profitable accelerated depreciation schedules carved out in the tax code just for you.
Or maybe you run a salmon fishery and you’re concerned about genetically engineered salmon cutting into your market share. Don’t worry, there’s something in this bill for you too: a provision that empowers the Food and Drug Administration to use its regulatory powers to block genetically engineered salmon from hitting the grocery store shelves.
Puerto Rican rum exporters, racehorse owners and breeders, speedway owners, salmon fisherman... this bill has something for everyone – except for one group: the hardworking individuals and families living in one of America’s forgotten communities left behind by Washington’s broken status quo.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are some laudable provisions in both the spending and the tax bill that make important policy reforms.
There’s the two-year moratorium of Obamacare’s ill-conceived medical device tax, and the defunding of Obamacare’s cronyist risk-corridor program.
There’s the lifting of the government’s foolish ban on crude oil exports, and the extension of several sound tax provisions that never should have been temporary in the first place.
But the process has been rigged so that we can’t vote on these commendable policy reforms by themselves. In fact, we can’t vote for any one of these sensible, positive reforms without also voting for each and every dysfunctional, irresponsible, and unsustainable policy found in the two-thousand-page bill.
Nor, it appears, will we have the opportunity to amend a single provision found within this massive legislation. This is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. That means no up-or-down votes on controversial provisions that members of the House and Senate – as of 36 hours ago – had no idea were going to be in this bill.
No up-or-down vote on: the president’s controversial Green Climate Fund; the unpopular and unwise cybersecurity measure; the divisive rules promoted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development; and the backdoor tweaks to the H2B immigration visa program hidden in this bill.
Nor will we have a chance to add back in the priorities of the more than five-hundred members of Congress who were not in the negotiating room.
For instance, members of Congress from western states, including my home state of Utah, have been working tirelessly for months on a provision to prohibit the Bureau of Land Management from using government funds to implement its land-use plans in the nearly 67 million acres of sage grouse habitat situated on western federal lands.
Amendments to strike or to add those provisions might have succeeded – or they might have failed. But either way, the American people at least would have known where their representatives stood on the issues.
With that kind of transparency comes accountability, credibility, and ultimately trust.
If the House and Senate actually voted for these measures as amendments to the spending bill, I might not like it, but it would at least put the question back into the hands of the American people and their elected representatives, instead of deliberately taking it from them.
Our credibility is on the line here. And there is still time to get it back. We can hit the reset button here, pass a short-term, stop-gap spending bill, and then come back to this in the new year and give it the time it deserves.
I yield the floor.