The omnibus spending bill was crafted in secret and will be passed under pressure; raises discretionary spending as the national debt grows; and fails to deliver on any major GOP priorities except increased defense spending. What might turn out to be the signature achievement of unified Republican government this year is the sort of legislation that would have been right at home in the Obama administration.
Start with the process. The 2,232-page bill was written in secret by leaders of both parties, unveiled Wednesday night, and passed by the House this afternoon. If the Senate doesn’t pass the budget by Friday, the government will shut down. So much for the 72-hour rule Republicans sought back during Barack Obama’s first term. The procedural abuse means that many lawmakers are voting up-or-down on a bill they didn’t write and had no opportunity to debate. It adds up to a breakdown of the budgetary process, a particular embarrassment for Congress given that passing budgets is one of the few duties that it still discharges with regularity.
The massive, 13 percent increase in discretionary spending was prefigured by the agreement on budget caps that congressional leaders reached in February. It remains remarkable that, even with control over the branches of elected government, the GOP cannot secure funding for the military without dangling such unnecessary spending for domestic programs.
The specifics of the spending aren’t much better. The bill provides funding for immigration enforcement both internally and at the border, but the devil is in the details. Set aside that the dollar amount falls far short of what the Trump administration had requested: There are onerous restrictions even on the money that is appropriated, limiting, for instance, the number of illegal aliens that Immigration and Customs Enforcement can detain. Even with the leverage of DACA, Republicans failed to meaningfully tighten the immigration system.
On health care, the hope of deregulating the individual insurance market to counteract rising premiums has been dashed. It seems increasingly likely that the GOP has given up on repealing and replacing Obamacare and is unable even to reduce its continuing burdens on the public.
Meanwhile, the $21 billion in infrastructure funding is not offset with permitting reforms that could spur private investment. We welcome the defense spending, and the funds devoted to combating the opioid epidemic might make a difference. But if this bill winds up being the only major piece of legislation Congress passes in 2018, this year will be a legislative waste.
During the Obama administration, we argued that the federal budgetary process had become an exercise in reckless liberal overreach. The federal government was abusing the budgetary process, we said, wasting money and expanding itself at the expense of civil society. The hope was that once the GOP gained power, it would act with procedural integrity, begin to try to return the government to its proper role, and deliver significant conservative victories on budgetary policy.
Instead, Republicans are poised to pass an omnibus bill that, with the exception of the defense spending, is an embarrassment and a disgrace.