As the Senate comes back into session this week, rumors continue to swirl that the body will take up the dreaded Labor-HHS appropriations bill. This is basically the ‘alternative rock’ of spending bills—it’s something that exists, but there’s a strong argument that it, in fact, should not.
For years, the funding for the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services has been highly contentious. Republicans have usually avoided even putting the measure on the floor because of the Obamacare schism within the conference. Indeed, a vote for the bill has been seen by many conservatives as a vote in favor of Obamacare.
Leadership has apparently decided that tying the Labor-HHS bill to Department of Defense appropriations is one way to potentially provide political cover for members to support it.
Because nothing says, “Pardon my profligate spending” better than “I voted to fund the troops!”
Yet, despite this kind of legislative maneuvering, the substance of the Labor-HHS-DoD “minibus” is still more of the same wasteful, debt-driving spending Americans have come to expect from Congress. All largely pushed by the same bipartisan cabal of lawmakers with an overly-inflated view of these programs’ importance.
Honestly, it’s like the Nickelback of policy-making. Same band. Same song sheet. Same godforsaken sound. Just with a different date on the album cover.
Take the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), an independent agency born out of the National and Community Service Act of 1990. The agency serves as a taxpayer-funded grant maker for organizations focused on volunteering and serving, such as AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and USA Freedom Corps.
While that may sound nice, it essentially takes our tax dollars and hands it over to well-connected charities and nonprofits that the bureaucrats running the agency like. The Senate Labor-HHS bill provides $1.1 billion to the CNCS for FY2019. Last year, the White House proposed a budget that would have eliminated the agency altogether.
The CNCS will use its funds in the appropriations bill to provide grants to organizations like Equal Justice Works, which uses our tax dollars to fund public interest attorneys who then lobby for loan forgiveness after a decade of service.
If that sounds like an incredible conflict of interest, it’s because it most definitely is. This is textbook cronyism.
In 2014, Equal Justice Works received a $5 million grant from the CNCS over four years, a separate $4.3 million grant over three years, and another $2.8 million grant over three years. In 2016, two more grants worth $2.4 million over three years and $1.4 million over two years were handed out.
This one organization has received nearly $16 million in taxpayer money over the past four years to fund lawyers whose degrees we already subsidize through federal student loans. This organization then uses those same tax dollars to pay the salaries of these lawyers who then lobby Congress to enact legislation that would provide loan forgiveness after a decade of public service.
Or take the Job Corps program.
It’s the second largest federal job training program and the Senate bill funds it at $1.7 billion.
This, in spite of a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report from inside the Department of Labor that found most participants were placed in jobs similar to their pre-training employment, that Job Corps isn’t even documenting enrollees full employment histories, and that it’s handing out millions to contractors for placement services despite the fact that they’re only placing 6 percent of program participants.
We analyzed the failings of Job Corps and other federal jobs training programs as recently as April.
And it’s not like congressional Republicans are unaware of the failings of these programs. It’s just easier to not reduce spending. Here’s a press release from 2014 put out by the House Education and Workforce Committee highlighting a Wall Street Journal piece that eviscerated Job Corps as a feckless program.
Or even take the Head Start program.
The Senate Labor-HHS bill increases its spending by $250 million from last year’s levels for an insane total of $10.1 billion. Head Start is little more than a federally-run preschool and daycare program. And as recently as 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services under the Obama Administration released a report that showed four year-olds who participated in Head Start had no statistical improvements in literacy, math, language skills, or school performance.
The report also showed that three year-olds in Head Start performed worse than those children not enrolled in the program by the time they reached Kindergarten when it came to teacher-assessed math abilities.
And yet, despite data showing this federal preschool program has no statistical learning benefit and, in some cases, is harmful to the very children enrolled in the program, we’ve still spent more than $200 billion on Head Start since 1965.
This is merely a snap shot of the programs driving our national debt to $21 trillion and beyond in this one spending bill. For those apparent Nickelback fans in Congress continuing to fund this insanity, you might say that it’s a photograph.