Just as I predicted back in October, Congress pushed its discretionary spending deadline back by one week, from December 16 to December 23. This comes as no surprise as congressional leadership is once again trying to ram through a massive omnibus bill before the year ends. The Friday deadline gives leadership leverage, as they threaten a partial government shutdown that might keep members of Congress in Washington over Christmas. Vote as you’re told, or you’re not going home is the name of this game.
Yet in the same vein that Congress managed to punt on appropriations when they were due on September 30, and again on December 16, Congress could punt on appropriations once more. The December 23 deadline is rather arbitrary—except for the fact that a new Congress will take power next year. As I’ve argued previously, the American people would be better served by Congress extending the continuing resolution into 2023 for the new House majority can take another crack at putting discretionary spending on a more responsible path.
Here are five quick things legislators and the public should know about what Congress would do with this lame duck omnibus:
Congress would spend too much, increasing deficits and adding to inflation. The omnibus would increase discretionary spending by about $200 billion or 13 percent, compared to extending the continuing resolution in effect now through the end of this fiscal year (September 30, 2023). Put another way, if Congress didn’t alter the current spending trajectory at all, the federal government would spend that much less.
Part of that increase comes from $85 billion in new emergency supplemental spending that should be offset with other spending reductions. Emergency spending is on the rise as lawmakers are increasingly using this designation—intended for severe, unpredictable, and urgent needs— as a piggybank for non‐emergency priorities.
With the fiscal year (FY) 2023 deficit projected to clock in at more than $1.2 trillion as the Federal Reserve continues rate hikes to control inflation, Congress should not add fuel to the inflationary fire. The more responsible path would reduce discretionary spending (the one‐third of the budget that Congress reviews each year) back to pre‐pandemic levels, cutting crisis excess.
Congress would waive required PAYGO spending cuts. Previously enacted deficit‐spending bills, including the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, are set to trigger spending cuts of roughly $130 billion per year. The omnibus waives those required cuts for two years, increasing deficits by about $260 billion. Statutory PAYGO is a budget rule to encourage Congress to offset new mandatory spending increases or tax reductions by tracking related deficits and forcing sequestration (“automatic spending cuts”) if the scorecard shows a balance. The Heritage Foundation’s Matthew Dickerson has been beating the drum about PAYGO for some time now, asking Congress to put forth alternative, targeted spending reductions to avoid automatic cuts. And yet here we are, with Congress once again considering the myopic easy‐way‐out by waiving PAYGO as part of the omnibus spending bill.
With annual deficits projected at $1.6 trillion on average for each of the next 10 years, Congress should take steps now to rein in deficits and debt. Foregoing required spending cuts in FY23 and FY24 while at the same time increasing deficits yet further (see above) is heading in the wrong direction.
Most members of Congress will not read the bill before voting on it. As the Heritage Foundation’s David Ditch pointed out on Twitter, the 4,155 pages of legislative text are accompanied by another 2,670 pages of explanatory documents for 6,825 pages of omnibus content. Even the most dedicated members of Congress and their staff won’t be able to read through this massive spending package before they’ll be asked to vote for it before the end of this week.
And that’s intentional. The current legislative process does not intend for members of Congress to carefully deliberate policy decisions. The more time legislators would have to ponder the details of the bill, the more opposition to it would likely arise. Unless members of Congress refuse to pass bills they haven’t had a chance to read, this practice will continue. Unfortunately, some members prefer it this way. It’s more difficult for constituents to hold their representatives accountable for bad policy they had little chance of influencing.
Congress would waste taxpayer dollars on thousands of earmarks. Earmarks, also referred to as pork‐barrel spending or the currency of corruption, are specific spending requests by members of Congress that supersede competitive award processes and other guidelines. They have a history of waste and abuse. Congress should ban earmarks and focus time and energy on fixing the federal government’s unsustainable spending trajectory instead. Some examples of earmarks in this omnibus include:
- $750,000 for the Connecticut Trolley Museum
- $1,000,000 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, OH
- $4,000,000 for the Covina High School pool
- $5,000,000 for the Upper Columbia United Tribes Salmon Reintroduction Project
- $7,500,000 for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, GA
Congress would enact other legislation that is not related to appropriations, such as the Secure 2.0 Act.The omnibus is loaded down with additional legislation, such as the Secure 2.0 Act, which would make several changes to retirement account rules alongside policies to expand the welfare state. I wrote about three troubling provisions that look to hitch a ride on the omnibus here.
This monstrous omnibus is a perfect example of why lame duck legislating is terrible policy. Instead of rushing this bill through this week, Congress should punt on appropriations until 2023. Members should instead take time over the Christmas holiday to deeply reflect on their responsibilities and return refreshed in the new year with a strong fiscal agenda that would put the U.S. budget on a sustainable path and avert a future fiscal crisis.
This article was originally featured at the Cato Institute and is republished with permission.