Congress has come to a funding agreement to try to avert another temporary government slowdown. The current Democrat-controlled House is continuing the legacy of the previous Republican-controlled House, which was continuing the legacy from the prior Democrat-controlled House.
That legacy? Spending more money that we don’t have from people who have yet to be born.
Everything in Washington moves in one direction and I’m not talking about the boy band. I’m talking about debt.
Regardless of which party controls the House and the Senate, our elected officials can’t help but to drive current and future generations further and further into debt, delinquency, and inevitable decline. It’s all too easy for them to spend other people’s money and claim it’s to “help” select interest groups back home.
All the headlines are covering that the bill provides about $1.3 billion in funding for the border barrier (far less than the President’s requested $5.7 billion). But that’s only one provision in a 1196-page, $396 billion bill chalk full of ridiculous provisions. Overall, the summary document put out by the Senate Appropriations Committee has the word “increase” in it 45 times and the word “above” in it 23 times. The word “decrease” is only mentioned once.
Here are a few highlights (lowlights):
Continues the Never-Ending War on Terror Slush Fund
The Overseas Contingency Operations fund, commonly known as OCO, has been around since the wake of the 9/11 attacks. For those who care about spending, debt, and oversight, this fund is case-in-point for how we’ve hit $22 trillion in debt. It’s little more than an off-the-books slush fund designed to navigate around budget caps for defense spending purposes. Need more money than the budget caps allow? Just move it to the OCO accounts which are exempt from budget constraints.
The current bill would provide $8 billion for this year’s OCO activities within the State Department—funds that should be counted within the budget caps. It’s been nearly two decades since the 9/11 attacks. If the State Department needs this money for defending the country, it should be baked into the actual budgetary baseline—not withheld under the pretense that the money is special. Or something.
That’s the logical equivalent of a child whose been told he can only bring two toys with him for a car ride and protests that his Stretch Armstrong doesn’t count because Stretch is special. If you think this is an oddly specific example, it’s because it is indeed both odd and specific.
Not that anyone is still holding grudges all these years later.
The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) portion of the minibus has an overall increase of $779 million from FY2018 levels. Most of this new spending is directed at infrastructure projects and taxpayer-funded grant programs that typically go to the highest bidder and most well-connected firms.
Intriguingly, some $2.6 billion is allocated for the Capital Investment Grant program which typically uses taxpayer-funds to subsidize transit systems that the majority of Americans don’t use—much less ride on a daily basis. After all, if you’re working in Stillwater, Oklahoma, why should your tax dollars be used to subsidize the daily commutes of people riding the New York City subway system?
The answer is they shouldn’t.
This is especially rich in light of California’s announcement that they would be “scaling back” their $77 billion high-speed rail boondoggle—which was supposed to connect San Francisco with Los Angeles. This provides yet another cautionary tale for central planners. Spending exorbitant amounts of tax dollars on mass transit systems not only fails to meaningfully increase mobility (due to preset routes of the rail systems), but all too often results in massive financial losses that fall in the laps of the very taxpayers whose money was being wasted in the first place.
Additionally, the bill allocates nearly $18 billion to the Federal Aviation Administration – including over $300 million for the Essential Air Service program that subsidizes air travel to rural towns at up to $800 per ticket. Given the goals of the recently-released “Green New Deal” resolution to all but eliminate air travel in the next 10 years, one might be forgiven for wondering why House Democrats are even bothering with providing a single penny.
Accelerating Cronyism Within the Humanities
As we have written about before, the subsidizing of the arts by the federal government is a longstanding practice that wastes money, distorts the field, and typically enriches the wealthiest art institutions. The current bill would provide $155 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEA/NEH).
Both of these programs should be completely eliminated. And under no circumstances should taxpayers be asked to fund wealthy coastal art institutions that represent a mere 0.2 percent of all art assets in the United States.
If 99.8 percent of the industry does just fine without government support, one can conclude that the remaining 0.2 percent would be just fine as well.
Doubles Funds for Federal Crop Insurance
Farm subsidies continue to grow faster than the crops they allegedly bankroll. This Depression-era approach is a result of decades of bipartisan logrolling in Congress to keep farmers reliant on taxpayer largesse for their profit margins, which also happens to prevent reforms from being enacted to the food stamp program. As the Administration’s tariffs have increasingly come back to inflict grievous economic harm on farmers, it seems the only solution Washington has is to take more tax dollars and give it away in an effort to offset the bad policies enacted elsewhere.
Payments to Former White House Staff
Incredibly, the agreement also includes nearly $5 million in taxpayer money to support former Presidents.
Former Presidents receives between $200,000 and $1.2 million annually for office space and staff. As Sen. Ernst (R-IA) has pointed out, “The reality is that post-presidential life already provides fruitful opportunities on its own, with former presidents raking in tens of millions of dollars from book deals, speaking engagements, and more.”
The fact that we continue to subsidize their post-presidential lives as we cross $20 trillion in debt is galling.
The President famously declared back in March last year that he would never sign another bill like that. Well, it appears he’s well on his way to doing exactly that some eleven months later.
Once again, Congress has crafted a thousand-page bill and rammed it through on the same day providing little time for anyone to read it. This despite the Speaker’s pledge not to do this just a few weeks ago.
If anyone had any doubts about the direction of things under the new majority, those illusions should be firmly dispelled.
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.