The Corner

The Demise of the Omnibus

They almost got away with it, and they may try again.

Congressional Democratic leaders planned all along to basically do nothing during the months leading up to the November election — and then, in a lame-duck session, unveil a bloated, business-as-usual spending bill and use the press of the Christmas break to force members into passing it before they adjourned. This approach would allow them to keep doing what they always do — perpetuate every federal agency and spending program ever created — without having to reveal their spending intentions prior to facing the voters at the ballot box.

If the Democrats had prevailed in November and held their position in the House and Senate, you can bet that the omnibus spending bill would have sailed through to a presidential signature, and their grand and cynical plan would have paid off.

But they didn’t win the election. They lost in a rout. And not only that, they lost because voters specifically rejected the out-of-control spending and hyper-activism of the last two years.

One might have thought that, having lost, the Obama administration and its allies in Congress would be a little sheepish about sticking to their big-spending game plan. After all, jamming a $1 trillion–plus, 2,000-page, earmark-laden monstrosity through Congress in December would entail relying on the votes of scores of defeated Democrats, who no longer carry the legitimacy that comes with voter approval. But we should have known not to underestimate their, well, audacity: In the wake of Scott Brown’s election last January, they demonstrated a remarkable capacity to ignore the wishes of the electorate.

In this instance, the Democrats wanted one more year of business-as-usual spending before the Republican takeover of the House slowed them down. And so, they moved ahead with their plan, hoping to get the spending bill across the finish line with the support of a few apparently out-to-lunch Senate Republicans.

Thankfully, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had the patience to cajole his wavering Republican colleagues back from the brink and drop their support of this incredibly ill-advised spending binge. And, for the moment, it looks like the solution will be the right one, a short-term continuing resolution that will leave decisions on 2011 funding levels to the 112th Congress. But the lame duck is still in session, with no clear end in sight. And as we have seen, they have no shame. Vigilance is required.

— James C. Capretta is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He was an associate director of the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004.

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