Here Comes the Omnibus--Batten Down the Hatches!

Will the $1.2 trillion earmark-packed bill pass before Saturday?

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Senators anticipating the coming belt-tightening from the new conservative Congress have apparently come up with a last-ditch effort to fund various projects into next year. Hawaiian Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye led the Senate Appropriations Committee in crafting a $1.2 trillion omnibus bill, containing over 6,000 earmarks that they hope can be passed before the end of the current session. The bill was introduced yesterday, after the House had already passed a continuing resolution "that includes no earmarks and would cap discretionary spending at $1.089, the same as fiscal 2010," reports Humberto Sanchez at The National Journal.

The omnibus includes funding for a wide array of ventures ranging from swine waste management in North Carolina and a school program in rural Iowa to a alternate-engine program for the Pentagon-rejected F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and food safety legislation, among many others. It faces, however, much opposition in the Senate, including from members traditionally in favor of earmarks.

A battle is expected to go down over the multi-faced bill that must pass both the Senate and House by Saturday, when the current continuing resolution will expire, in order to be effective-- Jim DeMint and others are already planning to stall the final vote by mandating that all 1,924 pages of the bill be read aloud on the Senate floor. Bloggers are putting forth their own opinions on the measure as they gear up for a fight over the omnibus.

  • 'No Vote, No Pork' Matthew Yglesias is confused by the fact legislation in question contains earmark bills proposed by Senators who now oppose the omnibus for its excessive spending. The Think Progress blogger proposes:
Why don't Democratic leaders take this stuff out of the bill? Surely the point of legislative pork, if there is a point, is to build support for your legislation. If $650,000 for some friend of Mitch McConnell’s who works at the University of Kentucky is the price of his support for a giant appropriations bill, then that’s a reasonable price to pay. But if McConnell thinks that, all things considered, it’s a bad piece of legislation that he won’t support then there’s no point. No vote, no pork. It’s absurd for Senators to request and receive earmarks, then turn around and complain that they’re voting against the resulting legislation because it spends to much.
  • Government Shut-Down Potential?  Daniel Foster at National Review’s The Corner blog suggests that “if omnibus, or another CR, is not passed and signed into law by then [Saturday], the government shuts down.”
  • Falling off the Tea Party Bandwagon? How does the omnibus bill, which continues to contain Republican-promoted projects despite claims of opposition, fit in with the new Tea Party agenda? In a Washington Post Op-Ed column today, Dana Milbank observes that Tea Party reps may be falling prey to Washington's way of doing business, including supporting the pork-barrel spending they once chided. It may have been "inevitable," he says, but "the speed with which congressional Republicans have reverted to business-as-usual has been impressive." The same question perplexes National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, who calls the omnibus "an insult to American voters. ... I don’t know how any Republican who claims to have any connection to this November’s tea party message could vote for the pork-laden omnibus." She requests that those currently in Congress "please limit the damage." But Brian Darling at Red State hasn't given up on the Tea Party's power just yet. He argues that the omnibus vote is the Tea Party's chance to gauge whether the Senate actually respects its movement. "Conservatives throughout America will be watching this debate and vote to see who is willing to stand up against a government that spends too much of the taxpayers dollar," he proclaims.
  • Obama, Beware The President does have the right to veto this bill and Town Hall’s Guy Benson fervently urges him to exercise it, warning that by failing to do so “he will hand his opponents a razor sharp butcher’s knife to flay him (politically) for the next two years.”
  • Another Reason for Americans to Hate Congress A new Gallup poll reveals that the current congress is the most disliked by the American public in history. Upon hearing Senator Inouye's defense of the omnibus by arguing that last year's funding for defense, homeland security, and veterans does not add up to cover this year's costs, Conn Carroll at The Foundry decides he agrees with the new Gallup statistic.
This is a morally repugnant statement. Defense, homeland security, and veterans can all be funded at current levels for one month through a continuing resolution, and then the next Congress could adjust our defense needs. Inouye is attempting to hold the troops hostage? And for what? Taxpayers for Common Sense reports that among the 6,600 earmarks in the bill is $6 million for parkland acquisition in Hawaii. No wonder Americans hate this Congress.
  • H.R. 1: Earmarks Repeal If the omnibus bill should pass, William Kristol at The Weekly Standard proposes the first order of business for the new Republican House should be to rescind all of the earmarks attached to the bill. He rationalizes:
None of the appropriated funds will yet have been spent—and so Republicans will have the chance to begin their control of the House by acting against earmarks and saving taxpayers money. The Republicans in the Senate can then offer the bill as an amendment to the first piece of legislation on the floor in the new Senate, if Majority Leader Harry Reid refuses to bring the rescission to the floor. I suspect such an up or down vote on the earmarks, separated out from a broader appropriations bill, would pass. And President Obama—who's against earmarks—would surely sign the rescission.
It would be a nice start for the new GOP Congress.
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