Another omnibust. A spendoggle. Those are just a few of the colorful labels attached to the H.R. 1625, The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 which President Donald Trump signed into law. Facing ugly midterm election prospects, Republicans could use more enthusiasm from their voters. Weighing in at more than 2,000 pages, the new spending law is a backhand to their conservative base.

This isn’t what responsible governance looks like regardless of party.

The $1.3 trillion abomination is the offspring of a broken congressional process and the misguided belief that Americans won’t realize they’re being fleeced…again.

Our federal government operates on a fiscal year. It runs from October 1st of one year to the following September 30th. Many in Congress seem shocked to discover this phenomenon happens every single year. Stopgap spending measures like continuing resolutions don’t create surprises either. The moment one becomes law, Congress knows exactly when it expires.

On the other hand, Congress could pass 12 appropriations bills under the regular funding process. That’s the most basic function we should expect from our elected officials. Forget all other legislative aspirations, Congress has the constitutional power of the purse and the obligation to use it regularly and responsibly.

 There’s a reason we break appropriations into 12 different pieces of legislation. Federal spending deserves scrutiny. Legislators need to debate spending priorities and have the ability to oppose spending without shutting down the whole government.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claims to agree. “Beginning the [budget] process early means giving Senators from both sides more opportunity to debate and offer ideas they think might make these bills even better,” said McConnell in May 2016.

Speaker Paul Ryan has been even more specific. “We are supposed to study up and do the homework that [our constituents] cannot do,” he said after being elected speaker in October 2015. “So when we do not follow regular order, when we rush to pass bills that a lot of us don’t understand, we are not doing our job.”

McConnell and Ryan know Congress isn’t doing its job, and they’re at the helm.

The truth is we haven’t really funded our federal government through the process outlined in the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act for about a decade. After Democrats stopped trying to pass regular appropriation bills under former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republicans promised a return to that process. They simply haven’t delivered.

These days McConnell and Ryan routinely leave members with the option of either shutting down the federal government or supporting a single, massive legislative dumpster fire. When that fire dies out, we do it again.

Don’t confuse opposition to these irresponsible spending practices with fiscal hawkishness. We ought to fund government. We don’t need to do it this way.

The ensuing congressional spin is an insult to every one of us who know this isn’t right. What’s worse is when it comes from self-proclaimed conservatives in Congress. Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-1) represents Alabama’s most conservative congressional district. Here’s what he had to say about the latest federal spending blowout (my annotations in bold):

With today’s vote, we are finally getting the resources to our military men and women they need to keep our nation safe. So Congress hasn’t adequately funded our military until now?Also important, the bill adequately funds long-needed infrastructure improvements, programs to address the opioid epidemic, border security, and medical research programs. For the price of $1.3 trillion, we paid for a few things. I am confident in the Trump Administration’s ability to spend this money in a way that reflects our conservative priorities and rebuilds our national defense. Since when does a broken process resulting in explosive spending without transparency become a conservative priority?

Like virtually every congressional district, Byrne’s does benefit from federal spending. That said, his press release on the bill doesn’t raise one critique of the new spending law. He’s basically expecting his constituents to appreciate the backhand because it has some goodies along with it.

Byrne wasn’t alone. Other than Representatives Gary Palmer (AL-6) and Mo Brooks (AL-5), the seven other members of Alabama’s federal delegation supported the monstrosity.

Even President Trump could smell the swamp stank coming off this omnibus. “I will never sign another bill like this again,” he said. “I’m not going to do it again. Nobody read it. It’s only hours old. Some people don’t even know — it’s $1.3 trillion.”

Yet sign it he did.

Trump isn’t an innocent party here. He’s the President of the United States. He begins the budget process, and he has a responsibility to engage along the way. Ironically, much of his displeasure originated from the lack of funding for a border wall and DACA reforms.

Republicans can quit the act about transparency, draining the swamp and restoring regular order to the federal spending process. It’s business as usual–particularly if we look at the vote count on legislation like this.

The average American might not know all the details of what’s happening in Washington, but we’ve seen this spending sham for too many years. We don’t need another tired excuse from politicians that this is the best Congress can do. We need to send politicians to Washington who actually do better.

Featured Publications