New Year Opens With Big Spending Bang

Congress plans to kick off the new legislative session the same way it ended the last one.  They will continue to spend more money.

When Congress voted on the Ryan-Murray budget deal before adjourning for Christmas, members were only signing off on the topline discretionary spending figures, not the individual accounts for all the departments and agencies.  They agreed to repeal part of the sequester for the next two years.  Consequently, discretionary spending will increase from $967 billion to an annualized level of $1.012 trillion for the remainder of FY 2014.  Congress will now work on passing an omnibus bill with 12 appropriations bills rolled up in one massive piece of legislation, which will reflect the topline figure in the Ryan-Murray deal.

Now, as The Hill reports, the appropriator cardinals are working frenetically to divvy up the new spending among their favorite portions of the government pie.

“Congress is set to unveil a giant spending bill next week that staff for appropriators have been preparing on a near daily basis throughout the holiday break.

Aides say progress on the $1 trillion, 12-part omnibus legislation has been better than expected at the subcommittee level, and that their goal remains to pass the bill through both chambers by Jan. 16 to prevent a government shutdown.

The secretive process has members anticipating rushed votes when they return next week, as congressional leaders race the clock.”


On some level, the January appropriations process is just a logical continuation of the deal agreed upon last month.  However, this approach really represents another failed promise of GOP House leadership.  Even if they planned to cave on the sequester, Republicans could have forced Democrats to agree to pass all the spending bills in regular order – one bill at a time.  They have gone this far into the fiscal year operating on a stop-gap CR, why not extend it a little longer to allow the budget process to work?  Why shove through a massive 1,000-page bill instead of allowing members to scrutinize each part of the federal budget separately?

It’s for good reason that in the 2010 GOP Pledge to America, Republicans promised to pass each bill separately under an open amendment process.  The power of the purse is the most sacred responsibility of the House of Representatives, and members should be afforded the opportunity to vote on each part of the budget separately.

Moreover, omnibus bills are notorious for becoming “catch-all” traps for other special interest riders.  Unlike in previous years, Congress declined to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which subsidizes roughly 80% of wind production in the country.  This carve out for wind is not a universal tax deduction, it is a refundable tax credit of 2.2 cent/per kilowatt-hour.  Depending on the time of year, wind producers can actually make money off this tax credit by selling their product to grid owners at below cost.  Don’t be surprised if a retroactive extension of the PTC is thrown into the omnibus.

Sadly, Republicans will not only violate this pledge for the FY 2014 budget, they have failed to secure an agreement to pass the FY 2015 budget in regular order.  Even if Republicans plan to cave on the spending levels for this year, they should at least extract a concession from Democrats to pass next year’s budget in regular order.  This will make it easier for us to push for defunding Obamacare in October given the fact that we would only be holding one spending bill (HHS), not all of discretionary spending for popular functions like the national parks.

The lack of will to fight Obamacare in the budget wouldn’t be so bad if Republicans were willing to make their stand on the debt ceiling in March.  But, alas, we’ve seen this rodeo many times before.  We know how it will end.

Cross-posted from The Madison Project



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