“Think of how stupid the average person is — and realize half of them are stupider than that.”
— George Carlin
Congress has gone full stupid.
Late Tuesday night, lawmakers released a 1,603-page bill that would dole out more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money (the federal government, by the way, has collected a record amount in taxes this year, but still can’t stop overspending).
Rollcall.com calculated that the massive omnibus bill came in at 289,861 words. Then the reporter dove into the math: “If members averaged 200 words per minute to read the dense legislative text, they would need 24 hours just to get through the bill.”
Of course, lawmakers long ago stopped reading the ginormous spending bills they routinely pass. Once upon a time, when Congress functioned, the 12 spending bills came in one at a time and America’s elected representatives deliberated long and hard over paragraphs, phrases — even single words. No longer.
Congress doesn’t pass appropriations bills anymore. Instead, lawmakers pile all 12 bills into one catchall omnibus bill for a continuing resolution — or, as this one came to be known, a CRomnibus.
When House Speaker John Boehner campaigned for the leadership job years ago, he vowed to give members at least 72 hours to read any bill before a vote. Back in 2010, the speaker said he didn’t think “having 2,000-page bills on the House floor serves anyone’s best interest — not the House, not for the members and certainly not for the American people.”
But that was before Mr. Boehner decided the highly flawed CRomnibus — with full funding for the budget-breaking Obamacare; for President Obama’s new amnesty program for more than 4 million illegal aliens; even for Michelle Obama’s disastrous school lunch program — simply had to pass.
This is how Congress now operates, lurching from one crisis to another. Of course, lawmakers still take months and months of vacation over the course of the year, but at the end of each session — always at the very last minute — suddenly, everything’s a rush. No time to read the bill! Pass it so we can all go home for the holidays!
It isn’t just one party’s fault. Both Republicans and Democrats are more than content to operate in perpetual crisis, waiting until the clock is almost at zero to agree on a bill nobody likes. That was exactly the case with the CRomnibus. With just hours to go before the federal government shut down, the House voted 219-206 to push the bill to the Senate. In the end, 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats voted for the bill, while 67 Republicans and 139 Democrats voted against it.
Republicans, who just five weeks ago crushed Democrats in the midterm elections — with Americans finally declaring “enough is enough” — were humiliated before, during and after the vote. First, the speaker couldn’t harness his troops to support the bill he was pushing. Both sides went behind closed doors as defections in the GOP mounted.
Then, Mr. Obama came out to support — Mr. Boehner’s bill. Yes, the president loved the massive spending for Obamacare and his amnesty program. Then, just before the crucial vote, Republicans caved on just about everything.
Right before the final vote, Rep. Jim Moran said Democrats got “virtually everything” they wanted in the CRomnibus package. “In 20 years of being on the appropriations [committee], I haven’t seen a better compromise in terms of Democratic priorities,” he said with a smile.
With Republicans set to take over the Senate in just three weeks, the GOP didn’t need to give the vanquished Democrats a thing. Shut it down if need be. Americans would have — rightly — blamed Democrats, who truly would have been responsible. The GOP should have offered just a 30-day stopgap bill and told soon-to-be Minority Leader Harry Reid that it would draft the next bill with a slew of new priorities, in tune with the wishes of Americans who voted out the Democrats.
But they didn’t. They caved, hard.
Republicans aren’t even in control of Congress yet and already they’ve squandered the mandate they won in November. The intraparty back-biting and naysaying left the party discombobulated and disconnected, open for a beat-down from Democrats — which they got.
None of this bodes well for Republicans in 2015. They should be on top; they’re not. And just to be clear, this doesn’t help the GOP in 2016. Not a bit. As George Carlin said, it’s hard to believe there are many stupider than them.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.