The Corner

Advice for Republicans: How to Tame a Cromnibus

CQ has a story today about the potential cromnibus bill that appropriators are getting ready to unveil — funding almost all of government for the next year while retaining some leverage over the Department of Homeland Security, which handles immigration policy. Here is a tidbit:

House GOP leaders are eager to avoid a shutdown or another stopgap by moving a broad funding package, while also finding a way to push back against the White House for its recent executive actions on immigration. A “cromnibus” strategy that would aim to provide fresh funding for most of the government under a broad spending deal now being hashed out by appropriators is likely to be outlined to the caucus. However, the legislation would offer only a few months of funding for Homeland Security agencies — which would carry out the immigration actions — to give the GOP a better chance to block the administration’s moves when the party controls both chambers of Congress next year. It remains to be seen whether conservatives, who see the spending package as their best leverage to force changes on immigration, will go along with providing any Homeland Security funding.

My first reaction when I hear the term “omnibus” is that it’s always a great opportunity for big spenders to shove as many special-interest goodies as they can, because lawmakers can tolerate it in order to not defeat the bill that supports other programs

One example: Republicans are proposing an omnibus spending bill for the whole federal government, but the National Defense Authorization Act is essentially an omnibus just for defense spending. According to the Nicolas Loris at the Daily Signal, Congress is trying to sneak a big land grab (literally) inside the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015. He explains:

NDAA, which has passed for more than 50 years consecutively, provides policy guidance for the U.S. defense budget.

The importance of the NDAA to the defense budgeting process and its traditional status as a “must-pass” piece of legislation makes for an inviting target for pet projects and wasteful spending. . . . 

In the 2015 NDAA, rumored provisions include designation of 250,000 additional acres of wilderness, four new national parks and seven national park studies (future parks to be).

These provisions would lead to more government ownership of America’s land and more restrictive land use policies that prohibit energy development and economic activity.

It’s not clear why the feds are acquiring more land when they already have too much, a lot of which should be given to local governments and the private sector. But also, what is it even doing in a defense bill? And how did this get in there, too?

‐ Women’s History Museum. The CEO of the organization promoting the Women’s History Museum has indicated that the construction of the museum alone will be between $300-500 million and that it will cost $15-20 million to operate the museum annually. 

Hopefully, this and other unseemly projects won’t see the light of day in the NDAA. And hopefully the cromnibus won’t be full of such items either — it goes without saying that the cromnibus should not reauthorize Ex-Im Bank or federally subsidized terrorism insurance

Since Congress has failed to pass a budget through the regular channels, the safest thing they could do right now is to pass a CR through the end of the current fiscal year. With so many retiring and defeated lawmakers getting out the door, we shouldn’t increase spending or open the door to other policy changes without having to do so. This wouldn’t necessarily prevent Republicans from defunding the president’s immigration policies – that should be possible in a separate bill.

If Congress does decide to go with higher spending levels than a CR would allow them, they should absolutely stay within the budget caps that were set in the Ryan-Murray plan last winter. The caps are already higher than the sequester called for originally

And lawmakers should include the projected spending for any “emergency” needs that they know will come up, so they don’t have excuses to bust the budget over the coming year. For instance, they should include the $6 billion for Ebola or military intervention abroad that’s in the cromnibus and cut other spending to make room for it. Over the years, Congress has had the bad habit of using the emergency label to fund non-emergency spending and to go around the budget caps.

Finally, as I mentioned yesterday, Congress should also stay away from bringing back to life some expired tax credits to special interests. Unfortunately, all signs point to Republicans still not getting the difference between being pro-business and being pro-market.

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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