Politics

GOP’s ‘Minibus’ Spending Strategy Is Not Draining the Swamp

Congress has been working to fund the federal government by passing a dozen appropriation bills, but deficits and debts keep growing

President Donald Trump’s persistent prodding of lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives to go through the normal appropriations process isn’t doing much to fulfill his mission of draining the swamp.

Congress has been working to fund the federal government by passing a dozen spending packages known as “minibuses.” A minibus allows lawmakers to vote on specific areas of funding instead of an all-or-nothing “omnibus,” such as has been regularly adopted in recent years.

The swamp is the entrenched political powers in the two major political parties and the unelected, unaccountable federal bureaucracy that puts its own interests ahead of those of everyday people. The growth in federal spending is often seen as evidence of a bureaucracy out of control, rising to a historically high budget deficit this year.

Federal spending hit an annual total of $4.1 trillion for this fiscal year, compared to $2.9 trillion just a decade ago in 2008. Government revenue hasn’t kept pace with the increased spending, causing the debt to increase. The annual budget deficit over that time went from $458 billion to $793 billion.

Thus far with Trump in the White House and Republicans holding majorities in the Senate and the House, Congress has done little to limit spending. Two minibus packages were approved earlier this year, including one with a continuing resolution to fund the government through December 7.

The first minibus spending package included $147 billion in funding for nuclear defense, energy, military construction, and veterans programs. The second package contained $607 billion in defense funding, plus additional funds for labor, health and education bills.

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“The current CR omnibus and other appropriations bills before Congress do nothing to drain the swamp,” Justin Bogie, senior policy analyst in fiscal affairs at The Heritage Foundation, told LifeZette.

“They embrace the higher spending levels of the irresponsible budget deal passed into law earlier this year and do nothing to decrease the footprint of the federal government. Instead, most federal programs are receiving increases in funding. The bills also ignore spending cuts that were recommended by President Trump’s budget.”

Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at the advocacy group FreedomWorks, pointed to two main problems with government spending. First, the budget process itself is problematic, and the spending measure passed earlier this year raises spending limits. The minibus packages simply appropriate the funds the budget has already allowed for already.

“The congressional budget process is completely broken,” Pye said. “The budget that they passed in February of this year spent $296 billion higher than the previously established caps. We’re talking millions and millions of dollars more than the spending caps under the Budget Control Act, which was passed back in 2011.”

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 set the current funding levels when it was signed into law February 9. The legislation also raised the statutory caps on discretionary spending by $296 billion. The Budget Control Act of 2011 set the spending limit, but it has been raised three times since the law was enacted.

Trump only grudgingly signed the $1.3 trillion Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 into law March 23. His dislike for having all the spending bills in one package has since prompted lawmakers to pursue the dozen minibus packages instead.

“It’s been a process that every couple years Congress blows those spending caps that were previously established because there are too few fiscal conservatives actually in the House and Senate,” Pye said.

“For a president who claims he cares about the debt, he should be threatening to veto any appropriations bills or budget that comes out of Congress that plunges us further into debt. Unfortunately, he’s not doing that.”

The minibuses are more designed to allocate how those funds are spent than to enact fiscally conservative objectives.

“Another issue with these bills is that they fail to pursue important conservative policy riders that have been embraced by the House and president,” Bogie said. “The Senate has stripped all of these policy provisions from the bills in an effort to get them passed with bipartisan support.”

Bogie added that passing appropriations bills before the start of the fiscal year is a worthy goal. But the problem is, the actual policy being considered is just as important. He said conservatives did achieve one of their goals in getting more defense spending. But in doing so they traded off higher spending elsewhere.

“This year has been a little bit different, and [give] credit where credit is due,” Pye said. “The appropriations committees did do their work. They did get appropriations bills marked up. The problem is a lot of conservative members who would file, especially on the House side, an amendment to strike something or include a tax policy rider, they were discouraged from doing so, largely because of the House Rules Committee.”

Trump has been very vocal about his opposition to putting all the appropriations bills into one omnibus. Doing so puts lawmakers in a tough position because they can’t oppose specific provisions without opposing the whole thing, which also limits accountability and transparency when it comes to their constituents.

Related: The Political Money Keeping the Washington Swamp Full

Pye thinks that the president was right when he blasted the omnibus process. But he is also concerned that the process this time around isn’t controlling spending. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) predicted in July that the federal deficit will hit $890 billion by the end of 2018 and exceed $1 trillion by 2019.

“We are still spending a lot of money that we don’t have,” Pye said. “We’re going to be very close to $1 trillion this year. We’ll probably be over $1 trillion next year. We’re spending money we don’t have.

“For a president who claims he cares about the debt, he should be threatening to veto any appropriations bills or budget that comes out of Congress that plunges us further into debt. Unfortunately, he’s not doing that.”

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