The Omnibus and the Left’s Merry Statemas

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Tue, Dec 22 - 9:00 am EST | 3 years ago by
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Free Radical - The Omnibus

The holidays are upon us. For most Americans, that either means celebrating Christmas (in its religious or secularized form) or Hanukkah. For those on the Left and the majority of Washington who glorify the state, however, the passage of the $1.1 trillion omnibus represents their own joyous celebration of big government – a very Merry Statemas, if you will.

The list of victories in the spending package for the Left is so great that Nancy Pelosi had to preemptively warn her caucus not to gloat before it was passed for fear of scaring off any Republicans not fully aware of what the bill contained. Harry Reid also tweeted that Democrats met all their omnibus goals, including “roll[ing] back sequester.” The forces of big government, in other words, are quite pleased with the outcome.

They have every reason to feel that way.

The omnibus rightly ended the crude oil export ban, a pointless and destructive anti-trade provision. But that victory was paid for not only by extending wasteful and distortionary handouts to renewable energy, but also by establishing a slush fund to pay for the Paris climate deal, a global redistribution scheme beyond even the wildest dreams of Karl Marx.

Thomas Pyle of the American Energy Alliance accurately summarized the deal in a statement: “Republican leadership paid too high a price [for lifting the export ban], capitulating on nearly every demand from the Left. Extending corporate handouts to the wind and solar industry will cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars and hike electricity prices on middle class Americans, all while putting a down payment on Obama’s climate agenda.”

The omnibus authorizes $170 million to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Clean Technology Fund, $50 million to the bank’s Strategic Climate Fund, and $168 million to its Global Environment Facility, all of which feed the Green Climate Fund to pay for the Paris agreement and thereby sustaining the Left’s international climate racket. That will allow the U.S. to make its down payment on the $3 billion in taxpayer handouts Obama committed in Paris.

Somewhat related, the bill also failed to include a number of crucial limits on a rogue EPA that were adopted in the normal appropriations process. So there will be no halt to the costly rules designed to all but eliminate coal, or EPA’s massive power grab through redefinition of “waters of the United States,” which vastly expands which waters fall under federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. It was designed to regulate “navigable waters,” but EPA lawlessly says it should now include essentially any body of water no matter how isolated or small.

Rules to protect Americans from government surveillance were also stripped from the bill for the second year in a row. This included a prohibition on the NSA from working with the National Institute of Standards in Technology to weaken encryption standards.

Sadly, what’s actually included might be even more alarming than what was omitted.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2015 is an amalgamation of the worst provisions from several bills, like CISA, that already proved too controversial to stand on their own. The surveillance program is being compared to the Patriot Act in both its severe privacy ramifications and hasty passage. Promising to help fend off cyber attacks, the bill actually increases government’s domestic spying powers and shields companies from facing the consequences for their negligence in handling customer data.

The spending bill also rewards failed government agencies with budget expansions, including $1.2 billion in new funding for the worthless Department of Education. Even more offensive is the 7 percent increase for the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, which has spearheaded a frantic campus scramble to eliminate due process rights and ensure that all men accused of sexual misconduct are presumed guilty until declared guilty.

All of this raises an obvious question: if Republicans control both chambers of Congress, why can’t they get government spending under control?

Part of the problem is the inability of Congress to appropriate properly. Rather than pass the separate appropriation bills after careful deliberation over the course of the fiscal year, Congress procrastinates until the final moments and then passes one big package for the coming year.

This approach hands President Obama tremendous leverage. He can threaten to veto the bill and cause a government shutdown over a single policy disagreement. Because Republicans are scared of their own shadows and think, despite much electoral evidence to the contrary, that they automatically lose the perception wars surrounding any potential shutdown, they end up preemptively caving to the Left on most issues.

Another problem is that many Republicans also worship the power of the state. Republican defense hawks sold out the sequester and formed an unholy alliance of big government advocates with Democrats, trading increases on defense spending for increases on welfare spending. Their love for the military state, in other words, trumps the small government rhetoric they peddle to get elected.

To be sure, there were good policy changes in the omnibus bill as well. The indiscriminate use of taxpayer funds to rescue ailing Obamacare insurance exchanges with bailouts for insurers that sell on the markets, which the administration was counting on, has been thwarted. That’s a huge blow to the healthcare law, whose architects were hoping to paper over its many flaws with generous helpings of yet more taxpayer funds. The moratorium on new taxes for internet access was also extended again.

So it’s at least debatable, depending on ones point of view, whether the good outweighs the bad. Less arguable is that massive, last minute spending measures covering the entire government are a poor way to run a country. Members of Congress shouldn’t be handed a few thousand pages of appropriations loaded with policy riders and then asked 12 hours later by leadership how they plan to vote.

There’s always going to be bad policy decisions made, but we’re far more likely to see better governing with a more considered process where real executive oversight can occur than we are compared to the current frantic approach and its built in biases for bigger government. For next year, Congress should resolve to make this the last ever Statemas by returning to regular order and sane financial practices.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Brian Garst is an advocate for economic and individual liberty. He works as Director of Policy and Communications at the Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a free market think-tank dedicated to preserving tax competition. His writings have been published in major domestic and international papers, and he is a regular contributor for Cayman Financial Review. He also blogs at BrianGarst.com and you can find him on Twitter @BrianGarst.

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