The Republican-controlled Congress appears poised to approve a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill to fund the government through the fiscal year that Democrats say is a big with for their agenda and that will pass with a majority of Democratic votes.
The rush to exit Washington before the holidays has also led to likely passage of a nearly $700 billion tax bill that makes expiring tax break provisions permanent and provides certainty to many small business owners. However, the omnibus bill is the legislation getting the attention.
The White House is calling it a Democratic victory and Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee created a list of their policy wins along with the many GOP priorities left on the cutting room floor. Among the most frustrating items for conservatives include full funding for Planned Parenthood, sanctuary cities, the refugee resettlement program, the new Green Climate Fund created at the Paris climate conference and controversial government rules on water, ozone and power plants. In addition, the deal exceeds the caps placed on spending by the 2011 Budget Control Act by about $50 billion.
“How do you sell this back home?” asked Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. “You see what’s going on in the presidential race, why outsiders are winning the day, and that’s because the constituents across this country feel betrayed.”
“The Republicans control the House and the Senate and yet this bill is very much a Democratic bill,” added Gosar.
Over in the Senate, the conservative reaction is very similar.
“There is a high degree of frustration because what happens in a process like this, where there is no process other than having four leaders from the two houses of Congress going behind closed doors and negotiating a 2,000-page bill,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
“Everyone else is left out. That means you’ve got 433 congressmen whose constituents are effectively disenfranchised and 98 senators whose constituents are effectively disenfranchised, having no voice in the process at all,” said Lee.
Lee says that approach led to some very bad provisions in the omnibus that would never be approved on their own.
“A lot of things that are in there shouldn’t be and wouldn’t be if we had an open process. A lot of things that are not in there but should be are left out of it as a result of the fact that it’s just impossible for four people to accurately represent the collective wishes and will of 300 million Americans,” said Lee.
Gosar is especially mad about the energy provisions in the bill. While a decades-old ban on crude oil exports is being lifted, he says much more power is also granted to the government on overseeing the energy industry that will kill coal and dry up fracking. He says we won’t have much oil to export anymore. He’s also furious that the IRS is getting $200 million more from the taxpayers.
Lee says he is most upset about a cybersecurity provision that was inserted with no debate and is actually worse than a bill the Senate rejected earlier in the year. He also slammed the full funding of the Green Climate Fund, which will collect billions in taxpayer dollars for the United Nations to hand out to nations allegedly impacted by climate change.
Lee says Congress is on a vicious cycle that hurts the country and makes cynics of the people.
“This kind of thing perpetuates itself as long as members of Congress continue to vote for bills like this. As long as they continue to pass, I think they will continue to happen this way. It won’t be until members of Congress say, ‘No, I don’t care who’s in charge. I’m not going to vote for a bill like this where I’m completely left out and where my voters in my state have no voice,” said Lee.
Instead of ramming through a 2,000-plus page spending bill with just a couple days notice, Lee wants to slow things down with a six-week continuing resolution so every lawmaker can weigh in on long-term spending.
“Let’s pass something to keep the government funded for six weeks or so and let’s come back and put this bill on the table perhaps as a starting point and then have votes on what that bill’s going to look like at the end of the day,” said Lee.
While very few conservatives are thrilled with the negotiating done by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Gosar says Ryan was also dealt a terrible hand by former Speaker John Boehner.
“There was a lot of manure that was left in the barn to the speaker, but I’m also questioning the resolve in negotiating here,” said Gosar.
Gosar is particularly upset by the number of riders left out of the omnibus, provisions he says are sponsored by members of both parties and passed with majority support but that leadership kicked to the curb.
Lee says it’s part of the political calculating done by leadership.
“They’re counting votes and they’re saying we’re going to have to rely on at least some Democrats to vote for this because we know that some Republicans are not going to like this bill or this process. That leads to a discussion of what can and what can’t pass. Sometimes that’s going to produce a bill like this one that Democrats might end up being a lot happier with. That has some Republicans understandably upset,” said Lee.
One of the frequent arguments used by GOP leaders and their allies in these budget debates is that too many conservatives allow their demand for a perfect bill to stop them from backing a good bill, and the more Republicans reject such measures the more the pot must be sweetened to attract Democrats.
Lee says that argument is baseless.
“That argument carries no water here. That argument doesn’t even apply here. It’s not just that the bill is imperfect. We’re not demanding perfection. We’re not insisting on perfection and nothing else. What we’re saying is let’s at least have some process. When there is no process at all and most members of the House and most members of the Senate are completely excluded from it, you’re going to end up with a bad bill, not just an imperfect bill but a really bad one,” said Lee.
Another line of attack on the conservative position is that the GOP must accept some bad elements of a final deal so long as Democrats control the White House and can gum things up in the Senate like they did earlier this year on separate bills to support veterans and military construction. If they don’t go along, according to the argument, Republicans will get blamed for a shutdown regardless of the facts.
Gosar isn’t buying it.
“That’s what everyone said in 2013 for 2014’s outlook. Guess what happened? Republicans won majorities,” said Gosar, referring to the GOP fight to defund Obamacare two years ago.
The only major difference between Gosar and Lee in response to the omnibus is how to respond. While Lee is pushing a six-week continuing resolution to trigger meaningful debate, Gosar is ready to make the politicians stay in D.C. right now until this is resolved in a responsible way.
“We should be prepared to stay here. We should have looked them in the eye and said, ‘You know what? We didn’t get our job done, so guess what? When you want to walk out with all the riders moved, then prepare all your members and staffs to prepare to stay in Washington, D.C., for Christmas,” said Gosar.