by James Bovard
Republican congressional leaders are like a football coach who believes the secret to winning is to punt early and often. House Speaker Paul Ryan and others are claiming victory over the 2,000-plus page appropriations bill, but this is a “no boondoggle left behind” $1.1 trillion nightmare.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers’ press release claims that the omnibus bill “helps to stop waste and administrative overreach.” Instead, the bill ravages both paychecks and freedom. No wonder White House spokesman Josh Earnest gushed Wednesday: “We feel good about the outcome.”
Here’s the tip of the iceberg of the bill’s outrages:
- The bill fails to block President Obama from delivering up to $3 billion to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, a partial product of the Paris climate summit. Republicans initially planned to block such funding unless the Senate was permitted to vote on the U.N. climate treaty. But since the omnibus bill failed to prohibit such payments, Obama will soon deliver $500 million in U.S. tax money to the fund — despite the legendary record of U.N. programs for corruption worse than Chicago.
- The bill fails to block perhaps the Environmental Protection Agency’s greatest land grab — its “waters of the United States” decree that seizes federal jurisdiction over 20 million acres that are sometimes wet. The EPA’s wetland crackdowns have been trounced by numerous judges. Republicans faltered even though the Government Accountability Office reported Monday that EPA had engaged in illegal “covert propaganda” to promote this policy.
- It provides more than $3.7 billion for economic and military aid to Afghanistan, though an Agency for International Development study recently warned that some projects “actually had the perverse effect of increasing support for the Taliban.” Afghan relief continues to be a hopeless mess; the AID inspector general reported last week that the agency’s highly touted new monitoring system was used for less than 1% of grants and contracts.
- It fails to block the imminent proclamation of Food and Drug Administration regulations that could severely impact the sale of most of the cigars now marketed in the U.S., as well as ravaging the burgeoning e-cigarette industry (which experts say provides a healthier alternative to cigarettes).
- The omnibus bill failed to include a provision to end Operation Choke Point, a Justice Department-Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s crackdown that pressured banks to cancel the accounts of gun stores, coin dealers, payday lenders and other disfavored industries in what Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., derided as “weaponizing government to meet their ideological beliefs.”
- The average federal worker is already paid more than $100,000 a year in total compensation, but the budget deal failed to block Obama from giving them a 1.3% raise — though many, if not most, taxpayers received zilch raise this year.
- The bill extends the earned income tax credit without reforming it — though the IRS estimates that up to 25% of all handouts under the law are fraudulent or otherwise improper.
- The omnibus bill dropped a House provision that would have required stronger evidence for federally proclaimed Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Earlier official guidelines have been widely discredited and are often blamed for contributing to the nation’s obesity crisis, but the same dubious evidence standard can be used in the future.
- The bill provides almost $27 billion for public housing and Section 8. That includes an almost half a billion dollar increase for subsidized rental vouchers, despite the long record of havoc in neighborhoods where recipients cluster. The omnibus bill also dropped provisions to curb the Department of Housing and Urban Development from bankrolling fair housing entrapment-like operations or enforcing new regulations to bludgeon localities with a lower percentage of minorities than the national averages.
- Some provisions of the bill seem harebrained even by Beltway standards. Republicans were justifiably outraged by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ “fast and furious” operation, which authorized sending more than a thousand guns to Mexican drug cartels. Section 276 of the omnibus bill prohibits federal agents from providing guns to anyone he “knows or suspects … is an agent of a drug cartel, unless law enforcement personnel of the United States continuously monitor or control the firearm at all times.” So the G-man is supposed to keep his finger on the suspect’s trigger at all times, or what? Perhaps it would be too easy to cease giving weapons to drug dealers.
- Perhaps the most appalling part of the omnibus are the provisions that authorize tech and communication companies to secretly provide your personal data to federal agencies — no search warrant required. The American Civil Liberties Union warns that this information “can be used for criminal prosecutions unrelated to cyber security, including the targeting of whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act.” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., rightly warns that a vote for the omnibus bill is a “vote to support unconstitutional surveillance on law-abiding Americans.”
While Congress made scant effort to protect average Americans from rampaging regulators, it hustled to include a provision requesting the Capitol Police to permit sledding on Capitol Hill. The “sled free or die” provision was a “bipartisan win,” according to The Washington Post. It is regrettable that there was little or no bipartisan interest in curbing federal power beyond spitting distance from the Capitol Dome.
House Freedom Caucus member Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., summarized the GOP leadership’s wacky reasoning: “Give the Democrats what they want now so next time they won’t want as much.” Republicans have been thunderously promising for decades to protect Americans against federal waste, fraud and abuse. At this rate, Republicans’ credibility gap will soon rival the $18 trillion federal debt.