Dec 20 2019
John F. Kennedy famously said “to govern is to choose.” But as the omnibus spending bill passed by the House and Senate this week shows, 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 working as lobbyists or consultants when the bill for our negligence and recklessness comes due.
This omnibus will add $2.2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. By that time, we will be spending more on interest on the debt than we do on national defense.
Discretionary spending will be set at record-high levels in nearly every category.
Not only does this package feature reckless spending, but it includes many irrelevant bills that it should not – funding broken, inefficient, and even harmful programs.
For instance, this bill reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program – a program which subsidizes beachfront properties right in the middle of dangerous flood plains, and which is already in $20.5 billion in debt to American taxpayers – for a full year without a single reform.
The bill also includes $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 ones it already owns, with a current maintenance backlog of $19.4 billion.
Worse, in addition to funding broken programs, it funds blatant 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.
Their biggest customer is Pemex – Mexico’s famously corrupt, state-owned oil company. So corrupt, in fact, that its own employees collaborate with Mexico’s cartels to facilitate the theft of the best of their 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.
To top things off, a last-minute tax-extenders deal was added to the package late on Monday night – spending 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 communities, 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, for instance.
The legislation, however, does include some good measures that I support – like repealing the medical device tax, fixing a tax provision that would inappropriately subject new churches to more taxes, and making retirement account reforms that allow Americans to access these funds in times of particular need.
Sadly, I had to vote against these measures that I do support 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, this has become standard practice in the United States Senate. Every year we wait until the last minute to fund the federal government, and every year we spend more, and expand the federal government.
This can’t go on forever. Eventually our borrowing costs will rise. If we don’t start making hard choices now, the choices we have to make in the future will only be harder.