by James Bovard
For more than 40 years, Republicans have been promising to cut federal spending. In the same period, federal outlays have inched up by a few trillion dollars. But the Grand Old Party continues singing the same song — though voters may finally be losing confidence in the opposition team.
The latest pratfall occurred last December, once again illustrating that 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 claimed victory regarding a 2,000+page appropriations bill, but it is a “no boondoggle left behind” $1.1 trillion nightmare.
The House Appropriations Committee chairman, Hal Rogers, claims the omnibus bill “helps to stop waste and administrative overreach.” Instead, the bill ravages both paychecks and freedom. No wonder White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest gushed, “We feel good about the outcome.” Republicans seemed willing to pay any price to avoid being embarrassed by being blamed for a government shut-down. Barack Obama exploited their willies to ram through a host of noxious policies.
Here’s the tip of the iceberg of the bill’s outrages:
- The bill failed to block Obama from delivering an amount approaching $3 billion to the United Nations Green Climate, one of the fruits of the Paris climate summit. Republicans initially planned to block such funding unless the Senate was permitted to vote on the UN 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 UN programs for corruption worse than Chicago. As the evidence of man-made climate change becomes shakier, Washington politicians rush to burn more tax dollars regardless.
- The bill fails to block perhaps the EPA’s greatest land grab — its “Waters of the United States” decree that places under federal jurisdiction more than 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 in December that the EPA had engaged in illegal “covert propaganda” to promote its policy. This could have been one of the most important property-rights victories in recent years. Instead, Republicans took a dive and bureaucrats will continue to hammer property owners around the nation.
- It provides more than $3 billion for economic and military aid to Afghanistan even though an Agency for International Development (AID) internal 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 fewer than 1 percent of grants and contracts. Many companies and contractors who are collecting windfalls from Afghan aid will very likely show their gratitude to members of Congress with contributions for their reelection campaign.
- It fails to block the imminent proclamation of Food and Drug Administration regulations that could prohibit the sale of most of the cigars now marketed in the United States, as well as ravaging the burgeoning e-cigarette industry (which most experts believe provides a healthier alternative to cigarettes). The fact that politicians did not even have the gumption to stand up for cigar smokers is proof of their callousness to one of the nation’s least recognized persecuted minorities.
- The omnibus bill failed to include a provision to end Operation Chokepoint, a Justice Department Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation 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-Wisc.) derided as “weaponizing government to meet their ideological beliefs.” The crackdown has disrupted businesses across the nation and spurred fears that the government could soon add other groups and businesses to the hit list. Even though ample evidence of heavy-handed abuses has come out, Congress chose to do nothing.
- On average, federal workers in Washington are already paid more than $100,000 a year (not including lavish benefits), but the budget deal failed to block Obama from giving them another 1.5 percent raise — even though many, if not most, taxpayers received zilch raise this year. This is typical of how the Obama administration and Congress are far more caring for the government’s own than for average Americans.
- The bill extends the Earned Income Tax Credit without reforming it — even though the IRS estimates that as many as 25 percent of all handouts under the law are fraudulent or otherwise improper. The Earned Income Tax Credit is also proven to have a profound work-disincentive effect because of how it raises de facto marginal tax rates. But this particular handout is popular with both parties so nothing got fixed.
- The omnibus bill dropped a House provision that would have required stronger evidence for federally proclaimed Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Earlier official dietary 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. Republicans took a dive even though the mainstream media has pounded the guidelines’ adverse effects in prior months.
Subjugating the American people
- The bill provides almost $27 billion for public housing and Section 8. There is almost a half-billion dollar increase for subsidized rental vouchers, despite the long record of havoc in neighborhoods where recipients cluster. (Section 8 played a role in destabilizing Baltimore before the riots there in April 2015.) 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. This particular policy is one of the Obama administration’s most brazen power grabs to manipulate life in the suburbs. But Republicans simply did not have the courage to stand against it.
- Some provisions of the bill seem harebrained even by Beltway standards. Republicans were justifiably outraged by the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms “Fast and Furious” operation, which authorized sending more than a thousand guns to Mexican drug cartels, resulting in hundreds of Mexican deaths. The policy was so controversial that the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for withholding documents on the scandal. (Naturally, the Justice Department refused to take any action against its boss despite the House vote.) Section 276 of the omnibus bill prohibits a federal agent 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 cartels. Instead, Congress has renewed the license to meddle even after widespread carnage south of the U.S. border.
- The omnibus bill included the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) — intensely controversial legislation that authorizes tech and communication companies to secretly provide people’s email and vast amounts of other personal data to federal agencies — no search warrant required. The bill also specified that citizens would never be able to learn of such betrayals by using the Freedom of Information Act requests to government agencies, which will have an easier time strong-arming private companies into betraying their customers.
The American Civil Liberties Union warned that information disclosed thanks to the new act “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.) warned that a vote for the omnibus bill is a “vote to support unconstitutional surveillance on law-abiding Americans.” But few members of Congress were concerned about privacy and the objections did nothing to slow the legislative juggernaut. There had been widespread controversy when the Obama administration and allies tried to push this bill through Congress earlier in 2015. But the omnibus bill and a cowardly Republican leadership provided an opportunity ripe for grabbing.
While Congress made little or no effort to protect average Americans from rampaging regulators, it did take one brave stand for freedom. Controversy erupted the previous winter when children were blocked from sled riding on Capitol Hill, so the 2015 omnibus bill included a provision requesting the Capitol Police to relent. The so-called “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 the current rate, Republicans’ credibility gap will soon rival the $18 trillion federal debt.
Few congressmen had the chance to read the hefty bill before voting for or against it. Admittedly, there is nothing in congressmen’s oath of office that requires them to actually read legislation before they vote on it. But that continues to be one of the most appalling symptoms of Attention Deficit Democracy.
Some idealists may believe that a sufficient number of scoldings by editorial pages and talk-show hosts will spur members of Congress to repent of their reckless ways. But thanks to pervasive gerrymandering, most of them have seats that are sufficiently secure that they have nothing to fear as long as they are not indicted on at least half a dozen criminal charges. Members harvest a flood of campaign contributions for the favors they disburse. Congress’s gross negligence helps explain the widespread anger against Washington that is driving the 2016 presidential campaign thus far.
This article was originally published in the May 2016 edition of Future of Freedom.