In a month full of holiday traditions, Washington is in the midst of its favorite: intentionally waiting to pass major spending legislation until the very end of the year, creating a false panic, and then dumping a 2,000-page, trillion-dollar behemoth onto unsuspecting members and browbeating them into passing it.
Because nothing says “happy holidays” like bilking U.S. taxpayers for trillions of dollars through a bill no one has had time to read.
Congress used to pass individual spending bills, with amendments and multiple floor votes. But that involves a lot of work on behalf of the congressional leadership, so they’ve quietly exchanged that for these now-customary gargantuan spending bills that are written by a handful of staff, behind closed doors, heavily influenced by campaign agendas and lobbyists.
If you don’t believe me, just look at all the “good of the country” priorities that ended up in this year’s $1.4 trillion, 2,313-page congressional gift basket.
Fully Funding the Afghanistan War
I mention this at the outset because it comes on the heels of the Washington Post dropping a blockbuster series of articles, culled from thousands of pages of internal government documents, demonstrating that multiple administrations have willfully misled the public about the state and purpose of the Afghanistan War. They continue even now to send Americans to bleed and die there, at the cost of more than 2,000 American military lives, more than 40,000 Afghan civilian lives, and over $1 trillion. This is the kind of thing that, at one time, would have conjured breathlessly covered congressional hearings, demands for accountability, and an immediate legislative response.
But Congress has instead appeared to collectively yawn and return to its business of impeaching the president, or whatever else it does now. A friend knowledgeable in defense, and who was deployed to Afghanistan as a civilian, recently texted me the following:
We’ve all known this, as bad as it is. No one has cared. Everyone who has followed the war closely knows about all these lies already. … What’s worse is [that] people will barely pay attention even to this and in two days everyone will be talking about something else. And we will do it all again in another country while you and I are still alive.
I found it chilling when he sent it, and even more so now that he’s apparently been proven correct.
Raising the Age to Buy Tobacco to 21
Speaking of endless wars, you’re welcome to go die in the desert at 18, as well as vote for president, have a child, and get sentenced to death by the courts. But after this bill passes, you’ll still have to wait three extra years to buy that pack of smokes.
If you need proof of how these year-end bills get distorted by electioneering and lobbying, here is Exhibit A. Raising the smoking age to 21 is the legislative priority of a single person: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who, conveniently, also happens to be up for reelection.
McConnell introduced the Tobacco 21 legislation back in May. Since then, he’s allied himself with the tobacco companies, which are looking to this singularly dumb piece of legislation as a way to save themselves and their bottom lines from much harsher regulations from the Food and Drug Administration.
So we, as a country, will now be subject to an expansion of the nanny state in order to secure McConnell’s reelection, as well as the profits of tobacco companies, which also happen to be McConnell’s campaign donors.
Before you wonder aloud why McConnell would push legislation that would seemingly hurt his own state’s tobacco farmers, don’t worry. McConnell got them a $10 billion bailout in 2004.
Coal Miners Pension Bailout
Kentucky continues to do well in this bill. In addition to securing passage of his Tobacco 21 legislation (and $410 million for a new Veterans Affairs center in Louisville), McConnell-associated legislation to bail out the United Mine Workers of America is also included in this boondoggle. This will be the first time in history that Congress uses taxpayer dollars to fund the over-extended and under-funded pension plans of private-sector unions and private employers — in this case, to the tune of roughly $6 billion for coal miners.
Rachel Greszler of the Heritage Foundation has written extensively about the moral hazard that comes with using taxpayer money to bail out mismanaged private pension plans. Close to 1,400 multi-employer pension plans have collectively set aside only 43 cents on the dollar to pay their pension obligations. That means approximately $640 billion in unfunded pension promises are out there, just waiting for Congress to step in and save them.
Now that the seal has been broken, it just got a whole lot easier to open those floodgates.
Expanded Abortion Coverage Under Obamacare
After stripping the bill of the Shelby-Graham-Shaheen language, which would have undone President Trump’s prohibition on U.S. taxpayers funding abortion overseas, a provision added close to midnight on Monday expanded abortion coverage elsewhere.
A package of “tax extenders” was added to the bill at the last minute, mere hours before passage, and in it were two extensions of Obamacare tax subsidies — both of which were added without the critical protection of the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions. The bill, which has passed the House, now goes to the Senate, where this issue could presumably be addressed. However, as of this writing, it remains unclear if that will happen.
As Tom McClusky of March for Life told me, “As long as Congress behaves in a dysfunctional manner, we should expect dysfunctional results. This is a years-long problem that could have been resolved in a pro-life manner. Instead it was rushed once again so taxpayers are on the hook for abortions. The status quo isn’t a victory.”
$25 Million for Gun Violence Prevention Research
For the first time in over 20 years, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will receive money for the explicit purpose of researching gun violence. Previous spending bills have failed to include this because Second Amendment proponents have always believed it would be used to further the anti-gun lobby. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., has raised similar concerns about this current language, telling Blaze Media,
The inherent bias at NIH and CDC in deciding how this money will be spent will compel left-wing researchers to compete with each other to cook up the most anti-gun results as possible. … This newly christened government-funded gun-violence research industry will work mainly to justify its own existence, and unbiased voices won’t be funded or even tolerated.
Funding for Dubious NIH Studies
The NIH won’t just be researching gun violence. The agency received $42 billion in the legislation, a 7 percent increase in funding for all kinds of programs, including this Obama-era study, which spends over $5 million pumping kids as young as 8 full of puberty-suppressing, cross-sex hormones, which can make them infertile for life.
This “scientific study” has no control group and ignores substantive research demonstrating that 80 to 95 percent of children experiencing gender dysphoria end up accepting their biological sex by late adolescence.
Studies like this reveal one of the problems with giving Congress less than 24 hours to read and pass 2,000-page bills. At least one member would have likely offered an amendment to prohibit funding this study. Too bad no one had the opportunity.
You can set your clock by the annual passage of tax extenders — the several handfuls of expiring tax provisions that cover everything from the craft beer industry to racehorse owners to developers in American Samoa. Each expiring provision has a lobbyist attached to it, and each one of those lobbyists has a massive bonus attached to their ability get the tax provision extended.
This particular deal was struck about midnight on Monday, just in time for a House vote roughly 12 hours later. Because, as we’ve learned from experience every other December, nothing imbues Congress with urgency like a bunch of lobbyists waiting on their holiday bonuses.
There are few things as certain as death: taxes — and tax extenders. Or as Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, described it, “When I die, sprinkle my ashes over the extenders — so I live thru eternity.”
No New Funding for the Border
As Mexico continues to descend into a gangland, citizens are brutalized and slaughtered, and the cartels continue to make billions from trafficking in drugs and humans, this spending bill makes a concerted effort to do absolutely nothing about it.
Funding for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is flatlined. Worse, the MS-13 trafficking loophole — which prevents ICE from cooperating with Health and Human Services to remove illegal immigrant sponsors of unaccompanied children — remains unaddressed. This loophole incentivizes the traffickers profiting from human smuggling and brutally exploiting women and children.
Reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank for Seven Years
Merry Christmas to Boeing, who may have crashed a few planes this year but will still be the recipient of millions in corporate welfare issued by the Ex-Im Bank for the purpose of helping billion-dollar corporations access “difficult” export markets. In fact, since the Senate gave the bank a full voting quorum in May, these corporations can now receive taxpayer-backed loans up to $100 million.
What a relief, since until May, they could only receive loans of $10 million. Our exports really took a hit. Oh wait, they didn’t. In fact, Boeing had its best year ever in 2018 without the full subsidy.
But now that Boeing’s stock is plummeting (just like its planes — too soon?), Congress comes to the rescue with boatloads of corporate welfare.
More to Hate in the Spending Bill
There’s even more to hate in this legislation — like the two Obamacare taxes that were repealed at the behest of special interests (while Obamacare spending was increased), the one-year extension of the bankrupt National Flood Insurance Program, and the fact that federal workers now get a 3.1 percent pay raise, on par with active-duty military. There’s also the fact that the $1.4 trillion in spending comes as the country has now surpassed $23 trillion in national debt.
But good luck getting more than a handful of members to care about that because the few who do get roundly shouted down. The rest of them back-slap their way into the holiday break, seemingly undisturbed by the giant mess they all just green-lit as they congratulate one another for a job well done.
As Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, says, Congress has “never met a spending bill they didn’t love.”
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