Omnibus spending bill: a cynical game all around

Watching this whole “process” over the last ten days it has become clear to me that both sides of the aisle have been engaging in a cynical game.

Apparently some kind of spending bill was needed before the end of the year because otherwise the federal government would be out of money. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I don’t recall this being brought front and center during the elections.

I understand why the Democrats preferred to evade the issue; it actually worked out into a pretty good game plan for them and makes me think that this was more or less their plan all along. If they had done well in the elections, they’d have their spending bill and it would probably involve double the dollars of this one. If as it turned out they did badly, they could still ram something through before the new Congress is seated, which they are doing. So for the Democrats it’s all good.

But I cannot get the Republicans. Question: was the original “deal” a fake? As I understood it, “the deal” had two prongs: extend existing tax rates, and extend unemployment benefits 13 months. All the talking heads told us that this was a bitter pill because the unemployment extension meant $58 billion in new spending without eliminating any programs elsewhere. Fifty eight billion dollars. Either there was already more on the table that nobody was talking about, or they were naive.

Now this modest compromise has “suddenly” morphed into an omnibus spending bill. Why do I question the “suddenly” part? Because it’s over 1,900 pages long. It provides funding for a range of existing federal programs. It contains more pork than my Uncle Elmer’s hog farm. And it all “appeared” in the last week, just in time to allow the Democrats to make the argument that it’s a “must pass” bill given the time crunch, and thereby also giving the Republicans an easy way to vote for it, grumbling all the way.

I get why the Democrats stayed mum on this thing; it was entirely to their advantage to handle it as a stealth bill. What I don’t get is why the Republicans didn’t bring it front and center during the elections and after, and why they seem (at best) so completely unprepared to respond to it. I say “at best” because there is no shortage of Republicans who are jumping on the earmarks bandwagon with this monstrosity.

And of course, the cynicism only gets deeper with every reference to this as “the deal” to extend the tax cuts along with an extension of federal unemployment benefits. If that’s all there was to this, I would not be particularly upset. But obviously it is more than that, and equally obviously everyone in a position to know did know what was coming (or else was hopelessly naive).

And for all of this, somehow the Republicans have managed to become the party that cannot even beat a dead horse. Obama’s public performance over the last ten days has been abysmal … yet (miracle of miracles!) he’s coming out of it with everything he wants: a barrelful of spending and a vaporized Republican response.

Now I hear the Democrats “changing their tune”, trying to make the case (with a straight face) that the reason they want to raise taxes and spending is that they want to cut the deficit. It boggles the mind. And once again, Republicans seem only to sputter. Here’s the deal, folks: as the old cowboy saying goes, “if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging”. We are in a deficit spending hole. You don’t stop digging by continuing to spend. You stop digging by first stopping wasteful and unnecessary spending, then go on to making the harder choices.

But our President and Congressional representatives (on both sides of the aisle!) seem to be like nothing so much as emo girls in a mall with daddy’s credit card. They are addicted shopaholics. They can’t stop themselves. By this I indict every Republican who votes or has voted for this bill. Whatever the logic may have been for the “original” deal, it has been obliterated by this orgiastic exercise.

When is enough really enough?