Around 8 PM Wednesday night, a 2,232 page behemoth omnibus spending bill appeared on the House of Representatives Document Repository web site. Weighing in at $1.3 trillion, the bill amounts to $582 million a page.
About 17 hours and another 1511 pages of explanatory text later, the bill passed the House. The Senate quickly followed suit in the wee hours of Friday morning. The math works out to House members having about 16 seconds to speed read each page in the package, their Senate colleagues granted a more leisurely 28 seconds per page. Not to put too fine a point on it, but no one – no one – knew what they were voting on.
It’s worth putting this frantic last minute mad scramble to fund government into context. And that context lies in the scramble happening one week shy of the six month mark of fiscal year 2018, meaning that Congress began punting back in September. Actually, you could soundly argue that it started well before that. The House got all twelve spending bills done, but they bore little resemblance to what got enacted.
The Senate didn’t even try. Not a single FY2018 spending bill graced the Senate floor last year. The first nine months of the year were mostly dedicated to a failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The last three focused on jammingthrough a deficit-financed tax cut. Only after that, did Congressional leadership turn to their only constitutionally-mandated annual duty.
And the only duty that, unlike efforts to reform health care or tax policy, has a hard deadline; pass bills funding federal agencies or the government shuts down. And what did they do? They agreed to add about $150 billion in additional spending over budget cap levels for fiscal year 2018 and for fiscal year 2019 by adding the tab onto the $20 trillion national debt.
Adding a slew of cash to agencies with only six months to spend it, is a recipe for waste. Indeed, it looked like Congress had a hard time figuring out how to spend it. Lawmakers shoveled $6.8 billion into buying weapon systems and projects that the Pentagon didn’t even ask them to spend a dime on. And plenty of areas got huge plus-ups. Lockheed Martin Aerospace is headquartered in Ft. Worth, Texas. The Chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Kay Granger (R-TX) represents Ft. Worth. The bill includes $2.9 billion for 20 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters than the Pentagon asked for. Who makes them? You guessed it, Lockheed Martin.
Extra cash can make lawmakers do funny things. If you look at the original House bill funding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – the nation’s water projects agency – you’ll find $6.16 billion in funding. Over in the Senate, they gave the agency $6.2 billion. Both amounts far-outstripped the President’s request for the agency which was just $5 billion.
In the Schoolhouse Rock version of conferencing legislation and hashing out the differences, they would likely meet in the middle or one chamber would acquiesce to the other’s amount. Instead, lawmakers emerged from conference with $6.8 billion for the Corps – $600 million more than either chamber, $800 million more than what was spent last year, and a whopping $1.8 billion more than the President asked for! Keep in mind, this is on top of the staggering $16 billion the agency received in February to respond to the 2017 hurricanes.
There were a few pearls amongst the swine legislation. Cabinet officials can kiss their first class airfare goodbye: Sec. 710 None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for first-class travel by the employees of agencies funded by this Act (with few exceptions). A wasteful biomass energy program was stopped. Retiring Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran’s gambit to revive a wasteful flood control project for subsidized soybeans that was killed by the Bush Administration (and put it first in line ahead of projects protecting people and property) was rejected.
But all in all – as you might imagine, we were thrilled to hear the President was thinking of vetoing the bill. Never mind that we were happy there were only relative peanuts in the package for his border wall, we were all for the President sticking a fork in this one whatever the reason and making them start over. Congress is on a two week recess, they have plenty of time to read bill. Unfortunately, the President blinked and signed the bill.