The 1,924-page omnibus spending bill unveiled yesterday by Senate Democrats is the legislative equivalent of a middle finger, one that reminds us of how richly the Democrats deserved the shellacking visited upon them on Election Day. Rather than pass a simple “continuing resolution” to fund government operations through early 2011, Harry Reid & Co. decided to ignore the backlash against fiscal profligacy and let their pork barons run wild. The result is an orgy of earmarks, rolled out two weeks after most Senate Republicans and seven Senate Democrats voted for a temporary earmark moratorium.
Mind you, the only reason we need new legislation to keep the government financed beyond December 18 is that the feckless Democrats in Congress failed to enact even a single appropriations bill for the current fiscal year, which began in October. Considering the breadth of their lame-duck agenda — finalizing a tax-cut deal, ratifying the New START treaty, ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” approving the DREAM Act for illegal immigrants, launching a new health-care program for 9/11 workers, etc. — Democrats might have been expected to settle for a short-term continuing resolution instead of triggering yet another raucous, bare-knuckled spending fight. But earmark enthusiasts such as Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye (chairman of the mighty Senate Appropriations Committee) were apparently given carte blanche to pile on the bacon.
After combing through the omnibus measure, John McCain has identified nearly 6,500 earmarks worth roughly $8.3 billion. (They include such pressing national business as $3.49 million for termite research in Louisiana, $1 million for peanut research in Georgia, and $2.5 million for the Dairy Forage Research Center in Wisconsin.) The bill also contains sundry provisions to help fund the implementation of Obamacare. (All told, those provisions exceed $1 billion.) Inouye’s personal touch is a mandate that directs the U.S. interior secretary to “examine and make recommendations to Congress no later than Sept. 30, 2011, on developing a mechanism for the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian governing entity and recognition by the United States of the Native Hawaiian governing entity as an Indian tribe within the meaning of Articles I and II of the Constitution.” That’s a reference to the notorious Akaka bill, an odious piece of segregationist legislation that would establish a race-based government on the Hawaiian archipelago.
Is this really how Senate Democrats wish to conclude the 111th Congress? By reminding Americans of all the noxious, irresponsible, and laughable practices — 2,000-page bills, procedural abuses, wasteful spending, parochial self-indulgence — that came to define the Reid-Pelosi majority?
In a perverse way, the $1.1 trillion omnibus package is a fitting coda for a two-year experiment in reckless liberal overreach. That experiment will officially end on January 3 when the new Congress is seated. Until then, Democrats will remain intent on ramming through every pet project and wish-list item still kicking around. We fear that several pork-friendly GOP senators — such as Bob Bennett of Utah, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Thad Cochran of Mississippi — may be willing to acquiesce in the charade.
What will Barack Obama do? “I agree with those Republican and Democratic members of Congress who’ve recently said that in these challenging days, we can’t afford what are called earmarks,” the president declared in mid-November. Signing the omnibus bill would make a mockery of those words and confirm that Obama’s commitment to fiscal responsibility is merely rhetorical. The legislation deserves to be rejected both for its contents and for the disgraceful manner in which it is being hustled toward passage.
Remember: This is a lame-duck Congress. Trying to enact such a bloated agenda — let alone a highly partisan one — within such a narrow post-election time frame insults the voters and shows utter disrespect for the democratic process. The omnibus is bad enough. The fact that Reid also wants to rush through debate on whether to ratify a deeply flawed arms-control pact and whether to change U.S. policy toward gay servicemen shows that he has no real interest in giving these issues their proper treatment. For reasons of timing and legitimacy, New START and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be the business of the next Congress.
If the Democrats are dead set on embarrassing themselves by ending the year in a blaze of ignominy, that’s their choice. But Republicans should oppose this travesty with all their might.