If you want a preview of the 114th Congress, consider the just concluded passage of the $1.1 trillion appropriations bill. It is not a pretty picture, and it does not bode well for the nation.
Passage of the legislation was necessary to fund the government for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 this year and avoid another government shutdown. Remember the two-week government stoppage forced on the country in 2013, courtesy of Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and his neocon colleagues? Last week’s showdown was almost a repeat, except that Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner finally got the backbone to avoid another disaster for the nation, and coincidentally their party.
Of course, it was all caused by the dysfunctional Congress that has been unable to pass appropriations bills in the regular order for the past six or seven years. Not one of the 11 money bills was approved this year, to the discredit of the House and Senate leadership. So in order to adjourn a few days before Christmas, Congress resorted to the now common tactic of passing an omnibus bill containing funding for all government departments.
The consequence of this broken process is the Congress approved spending $1.1 trillion without rigorous committee consideration and floor debate, the hallmarks of responsible legislative procedure. The bill also includes critical legislative changes on which there was no significant deliberation; attaching such measures to a must-pass bill is one of the most egregious legislative tactics.
For example, the omnibus bill authorizes un-debated actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State, as well as providing $64 billion in contingency military funds for that and other purposes. It rolls back provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law prohibiting banks from trading in financial derivatives, one of the principal causes of the 2008 financial crisis, and makes too-big-to-fail banks eligible for more government bailouts in the future. The bill increases by almost ten-fold the amount of contributions each (rich) donor can make to political parties, up to $1.5 million in a two-election cycle.
These amendments, reportedly proposed by Mr. Boehner to Sen. Harry Reid, primarily benefit big banks and other Republican interests. They were not without Democratic support, however, and President Obama signaled they would not stop him from signing the bill. But Republican leaders should take no comfort in that support, as it is clear Reid and company thought the overall bill was a better deal than they could get next year after Republicans take control of the Senate. Liberal Democrats, led in particular by Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the bank giveaway, vigorously opposed these provisions and sent a message of beware to the 114th Congress. Thankfully, they will be joined next year by their party colleagues in opposing extreme conservative measures.
Nor should Mr. McConnell expect clear sailing with Mr. Cruz, who had the support of 21 Republicans in his disruptive efforts to stop the omnibus bill because it does not include a provision to derail Mr. Obama’s immigration order. Such legislative antics will be magnified by the presidential ambitions of Mr. Cruz and probably two other Republican senators.
The burden of governing responsibly may not portend easy going for the GOP in 2016. More important, there is little hope for bipartisanship, and the nation will be the real loser.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.