Omni-bust: “This is The Worst That I’ve Seen It”
A reader with 10-plus years of experience working for the federal government on budget issues writes:
This sounds like a bit of Beltway inside-baseball griping, but the annual omnibus ritual is one of those “worst problem you’ve never heard of” situations for it has ramifications for the entire country.
Congress has only a few jobs– oversight, confirmations– but perhaps their most important job is to approve a federal budget once a year. Everything else they do can wait until another time, but the government needs to operate.
Year after year, Congress falls further and further behind in its ability to perform this core function. I’ve been working at the intersection between the Executive Branch and the Legislative for over a decade now, and this is the worst that I’ve seen it, from either party.
It leads to the situation you describe– everyone knows the Defense Appropriations *has* to pass, so it’s the bill that always acts as the Christmas tree for everything Congress needs, or worse, wants to get passed.
What happens in the interim is that the oversight Congress needs to perform doesn’t get done on any appropriations aside from the Defense bill (which is probably the *only* money that Congress focuses on these days). The rest of the bills get their markup, but once they hit the floor, they’ll just be thrown together into the omnibus and that’ll be that. No scrutiny, no debate, just pass the bill in the 11th hour (or the 13th, since we’re well past the start of another fiscal year).
The bottom line is, this whole process is so broken that the only people who benefit are those looking for ways to hide their pork-filled earmarks in bills that no one but a few staffers will ever read. Even then, even with no member bothering to read these bills, you’ll still get the appropriations late, as Congress misses the 1 October deadline year after year after year.
Again, this is Congress’s *most important function*, and they can’t even do this right. They act surprised by it every year, even though they’ve been doing it since 1788 or thereabouts.
If I were President, I wouldn’t put up with it. Either they pass the bills by 1 October, or the Executive ignores every earmark Congress inserts.
Alas, one can dream.