On Thursday, Congress successfully passed a bill that runs over 2000 pages in length and $1.3 trillion in costs. Weeks of deliberation amongst leadership-only accompanied with numerous delays led to the final product being made available to Members of Congress and the public at 8pm on Wednesday night. By 1pm the next day the House had already passed the bill (256-157) and a little after midnight the Senate followed suit.
The biggest uproar was a Senator being upset about a forest being renamed after a political rival. Did they read it? Maybe a summary. Do they know what’s in it? Probably a few things. Did they impact the outcome in any significant way? Not unless their name rhymes with McFonell, Loomer, Lion, or Shmashmosi.
The biggest problem is that this process was not an aberration. It has become the norm. Congress rarely passes spending bills on time, so appropriations are often shoved into multi-billion dollar “omnibus” packages. An omnibus bill is a group of federal agency spending appropriations bills lumped together into one big vote – rather than doing all 12 spending bills separately.
Why are these so bad? Putting all spending appropriations into one vote sounds more efficient instead of voting on funding for every department, right?
Totally and completely wrong.
Data from Pew Research finds that Congress in the past 40 years rarely passes budgets on time. And when these budgets are proposed, they rarely get read by the Members of Congress who pass them.
This means that Congress is appropriating trillions of taxpayer dollars per omnibus—adding up to 130 million years of an average taxpayer’s dollars—without actually knowing what they’re paying for.
Whether you are for or against federal spending, everyone can agree that the efficient and effective spending of American tax dollars must be a top priority for all Members of Congress, regardless of political affiliation. Shutdowns are unnecessary, but Members of Congress must make careful funding considerations essential to the appropriations process. We must hold our representatives in Washington accountable and ensure that they at the very least know what they are spending our tax dollars on.
Fiscal responsibility can only go so far if members of Congress are unwilling to carefully examine 2232 pages worth of appropriations. 24 hours, or even two days, are hardly enough time to understand where federal funding goes. It’s long past due to take trillions in decisionmaking out of the hands of a few people with leadership positions and make federal spending a more transparent and inclusive process.