Your Omnibus Spending Bill questions answered

The New York TimesJanuary 22, 2014 

I think you should develop a position on the Omnibus Spending Bill.

That’s the appropriations thing Congress passed last week. You missed it, right? You were focused on the football playoffs or the Oscar nominations. Speaking of the Oscars, did you notice that this year there were people debating whether anybody got stiffed in the Best Song category? Really, if we can know about Best Song, we can have an opinion about the appropriations bill.

Plus, it’s $1.1 trillion. One of the rules of good citizenship is to know how you feel about everything that costs more than a trillion dollars.

The bill is 1,582 pages long, but do not let that dissuade you. In the House debate, one member of the Appropriations Committee assured his colleagues that “contrary to what they may have heard, the bill has not only been read but … every word and every number has been scrutinized.” You will notice that he said it’s been read. Not “we all read it.”

So, to summarize:

1. The Omnibus Spending Bill is not perfect.

“This bill is not perfect,” the House Appropriations chairman, Hal Rogers, said during the debate. Repeatedly. Other members offered “not a perfect bill,” and “there are pros and cons” and “it could have been worse.”

While one of the main goals was to protect federal programs from more of the automatic killer cuts they suffered last year, we are still going to be spending less on nonentitlements – education, transportation, health, environmental protection – than we did under George W. Bush. And about half of the money goes for defense, some of it for weapons programs that even the Pentagon wants to cut. (We are looking at you, extremely sinkable, $32 billion Littoral Combat Ship.)

Head Start did great in the bill, but funding for the rest of education is sort of … eh. The National Institutes of Health, which were really whacked over the last couple of years, got a lot of money restored, but not all.

We want more money for research and education and less for Littoral Combat Ships! Feel free to chant this during halftime at any football game.

2. Compromise ruled.

Here is an example of a good compromise. The Republican right was allowed to continue its crusade against a Bush-era rule on energy-efficient light bulbs. It is hard to exaggerate how strongly some lawmakers feel about this matter. We will now pause to recall Sen. Rand Paul’s memorable rant about the evils of energy efficiency laws and how water conservation rules ruined his toilets. (“I’ve been waiting for 20 years to talk about how bad these toilets are.”)

So the Obama administration gets no money to enforce the light bulb rules, which it didn’t seem to feel needed enforcing anyway. On the other hand, negotiators beat back an attempt by House Republicans to kill off energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans. This gives us a chance to recall the impassioned words of Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee on the subject. (“First they came for our health care. Then they took away our light bulbs … now they are coming after our ceiling fans.”)

Here is an example of a less-good compromise. Republicans give up the idea of killing off the Dodd-Frank reforms of the securities industry. Democrats give up the idea of giving the administration enough money to enforce them properly.

3. Tea party loses.

By passing this spending bill, Congress averted a government shutdown. Did you even know there was one coming? We’ve gotten so used to this stuff it’s like the monthly office fire drill.

But many people in the far right were furious. It was a total defeat for the tea party’s my-way-or-the-highway approach to politics. “No one wants to shut the government down. My goodness, neither side wants to do that,” Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama said during the Senate debate. “It is no good and the American people don’t want it.”

Well, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas did. But he compromised and settled for giving a speech against Obamacare and then going away.

4. Women rule.

So what do you think? I’d go for good news. No shutdown, a boost for preschool and cancer research. Congress is doing better than it’s done since – since we started to really, really hate Congress.

In the Senate, the two major money committees, Appropriations and Budget, are now led by women: Barbara Mikulski and Patty Murray. This is not true in the House, where the only committee led by a woman is the one in charge of housekeeping.

Anyhow, this is the first time in three years that Congress has actually managed to pass both budget and appropriations bills. Maybe women are just better at getting along. Or maybe the secret is that Mikulski is a former social worker and Murray used to teach preschool.

The New York Times

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