Congressional Republican leaders are crowing that they cut discretionary spending in the ginormous omnibus spending bill. In fact, spending will go up in 2012 because of smoke-and-mirrors budget games that have become commonplace on Capitol Hill. A 1,200-page piece of legislation filed late the night before the vote continues to be the unfortunate way politicians operate.
On Friday, the House passed the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund government for the current fiscal year, averting a midnight shutdown. The last-minute conference report, which then passed the Senate on Saturday, prevents any more of the budget dramas for the remaining nine-and-a-half months of the fiscal year.
The bill took advantage of every red cent in discretionary spending allowed under the Budget Control Act (BCA), which was part of the August deal to increase the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion. Final spending for 2012 came in exactly at the statutory limit of $7 billion less than fiscal year 2011, but that was quickly wiped out by gimmicks.
The BCA allowed for a $11 billion slush fund for disasters that didn’t count against the budget. “The ceiling in the BCA is absurdly porous,” explained Patrick Louis Knudsen, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “They get to spend to their excessive ‘official’ ceiling, and then exploit the loophole for past disasters, which they could have budgeted for. Then they have unlimited spending for any other emergencies that may arise during the coming year.”
Republicans added a third piece of legislation to offset the disaster spending with a 1.83 percent across-the-board cut, but it failed in the Democratic Senate.
Although spending will go up by $3.4 billion next year, Republicans did a good job getting conservative policy riders included in the final deal. By far, the best thing in the legislation is that Santa doesn’t have to leaveswirly lightbulbs in stockings this year. The ban on the production of affordable, mercury-free, incandescent light bulbs will not be implemented as scheduled on Jan 1.
Also in the bill, the president is prevented from transferring terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the U.S mainland. In addition, the job-killing National Relations Labor Board gets a $4 million snip this year; the out-of-control Environmental Protection Agency gets its allowance cut by $233 million; the Interior Department’s land-grab is stopped by banning new protected “wild lands,” while it is forced to expedite offshore drilling permits; and the administration is told “nyet” to any new czars for its liberal agenda.
Mr. Obama is not getting the extra money he wanted for the Internal Revenue Service to implement Obamacare. Republicans started an abstinence education program with $5 million.
While America is struggling to survive under the mountain of $15.1 trillion in national debt, Washington seems blissfully unaware and belligerently unwilling to do anything serious about it. Republicans are able to win small victories on issues, but when it comes to shrinking the size of government, they fold. So yet again, we start a new year with our old problems.
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Emily Miller is senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times. She won the 2012 Clark Mollenhoff Award for Investigative Reporting from the Institute on Political Journalism.
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