Bluto Blutarsky must have been an Appropriator.
The 111th Congress began with an $814 billion stimulus that blew out the federal balance sheet, so we suppose it’s only fitting that the Members want to exit by passing a 1,924-page, $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill. The worst Congress in modern history is true to its essence to the bitter end.
Think of this as a political version of the final scene in “Animal House,” when the boys from the Delta frat react to their expulsion by busting up the local town parade for the sheer mayhem of it. Bluto Blutarsky (John Belushi) did go on to be a U.S. Senator in the film, and a man of his vision must have earned a seat on Appropriations.
Democrats have had 11 months to write a budget for fiscal 2011, which began on October 1. But Majority Leader Harry Reid and Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye have dumped this trillion-dollar baby on Senators at the very last minute, when everyone is busy and wants to go home for the holidays. No doubt that was the plan. The continuing resolution to fund the government expires on Saturday, so Mr. Reid wants to squeeze Senators against the deadline. And with the press corps preoccupied by the tax debate, the spending bill is greased to slide through with little or no public scrutiny.
Defenders argue that the bill is restrained because it freezes overall spending for federal agencies at 2010 levels. But 2010 was an inflated budget with a $1.3 trillion deficit. Paul Ryan, soon to be House Budget Chairman, notes that nondefense discretionary spending rose 24% over those two years. Add stimulus funding and federal agency spending soared to $796 billion in 2010 from $434 billion, an 84% spending increase. (See nearby table.) Republicans have promised to return to 2008 spending levels, and the omnibus will make that much harder.
Then there are the pork and policy riders, such as a food safety bill with new authority for the Food and Drug Administration. The bill’s 6,630 earmarks will cost more than $8.1 billion, according to Citizens Against Government Waste. While that’s fewer than in 2009, what happened to the earmark ban promised by Republicans and supported by President Obama?
The late John Murtha of Pennsylvania is so powerful he’s still getting pork from his grave: $10 million for the John Murtha Foundation. Ted Kennedy also scored a legacy earmark. The omnibus includes $8 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute secured by Congressman Ed Markey (D., Mass.). Thad Cochran of Mississippi, one of the GOP Senators who may vote for the bill, secured $6 million for the Mississippi Polymer Institute at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The bill makes a special effort to pad spending for programs likely to be targeted by Republicans next year, so any future cuts will occur off a larger baseline. That includes $36 million more for public broadcasting, $1.5 billion for high-speed rail projects that many states say they can’t afford, and $3 billion for green energy pork.
Republicans should be especially upset with the $1.1 billion to implement phase one of ObamaCare. This gives the Administration’s bureaucracy a running start and means that Republicans will have to pass new legislation to rescind the funding—which Mr. Obama will veto. Why would Republicans vote for a bill that makes it harder for them to achieve one of their main political goals?
We’re told that at least six and perhaps as many as 10 Republican Senators may give Mr. Reid the votes he needs to pass this monstrosity. That list includes Susan Collins of Maine, Mr. Cochran, and looming retirees Kit Bond of Missouri, Bob Bennett of Utah and George Voinovich of Ohio. This is the same Senator Voinovich who yesterday voted against extending the Bush-era tax rates on grounds that they are unaffordable.
Mr. Voinovich is retiring with this Congress, and if there were any justice in politics taxpayers could revoke his pension. As for Mr. Bennett, this vote explains his re-election defeat.
The sliver of good news is that Republican Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma say they’ll insist that this epic be read aloud on the Senate floor. That should slow down Mr. Reid and his bipartisan posse for a day or two. Perhaps if voters learn what’s in it, they will turn enough Senators against it to save the day. Republicans should hold out for a clean budget with no earmarks that funds agencies at last year’s level for an additional 45 to 60 days. They can then get busy cutting in January. If Mr. Obama wanted to help his fiscal credentials, he’d veto the omnibus and demand the same thing.
But don’t count on any miracles. The 111th Congress has shown contempt for taxpayers from its first day, which is why it was so repudiated on November 2 and why Gallup found this week that Congress’s approval rating has hit a record low of 13%. Which raises the question: Who are those 13%? At least “Animal House” was funny.