Despite the fact that the GOP will shortly gain majority control of the newly-elected House of Representatives, Republican senators, under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, failed to block passage of a bloated $1.65 trillion federal government spending bill to cover the balance of current fiscal year ending on September 30, 2023.
As has become typical in recent years, the key elements of the massive 4,133-page omnibus bill were negotiated by just three high-ranking legislators: Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy, Republican Senator Richard Shelby — both of whom are senior members of the Senate Appropriations Committee — and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
The text of the bill was not released until 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 20 — just three days before the Friday midnight deadline for a partial federal government shutdown and the annual end-of-year congressional holiday recess. The timing meant that the other members of the House and Senate did not have an opportunity to read the huge bill or to debate its many provisions before they had to vote on it.
As few as 41 of the 50 Senate Republicans could have blocked a vote on the omnibus bill using the filibuster rule. However, because McConnell threw his support behind the measure, it was able to pass by a vote of 68-29, including all 50 Democrats and Independents and 18 Republicans, on Thursday afternoon, December 22.
In addition to McConnell, the GOP senators who voted for the omnibus bill included Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas, Shelley Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Richard Shelby of Alabama, John Thune of South Dakota, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Todd Young of Indiana.
If the GOP senators had held together to block the Senate vote on the omnibus bill, they could have instead supported a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government operating until the new Congress reconvenes on January 3 with a slim GOP majority in the House. Then the likely next Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, would have had a chance to fashion a more conservative version of the omnibus bill, with fewer of the wasteful Biden-Democrat big spending measures that have been driving inflation and setting up the economy for a recession.
BETRAYED HOUSE REPUBLICANS BLAST McCONNELL
When that didn’t happen, McCarthy, his top GOP House deputy Steve Scalise, and three other prominent House conservative Republicans — Chip Roy of Texas, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, and Andy Biggs of Arizona — publicly broke with McConnell. They sent him in an open letter in which they pledged to “do everything in our power to thwart even the legislative and policy efforts” of the Republican senators who backed the omnibus bill which, the conservatives said, was “designed to sideline the incoming Republican House Majority.”
Because the Democrats still held a slim majority in the House when the vote on the omnibus was taken, the outcome was a forgone conclusion. It passed by a 225-201 vote, with nine GOP House members crossing party lines to support it. All the House Democrats voted for it, except for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and another member of AOC’s progressive “squad,” Rashida Talib of Michigan. They opposed the measure because it provides more federal money for national defense and homeland security.
In a speech on the floor of the House before the votes were taken on the omnibus bill, McCarthy cited its many flaws, including more than 7,200 pet projects — formerly known as “earmarks” but now renamed “community projects” — spending $15 billion for the political benefit of influential members of the House and Senate from both parties.
RETURN OF CONGRESSIONAL EARMARKS
The insertion of earmarks into spending bills without prior public debate or discussion was banned by Congress in 2011 as a corrupt practice, but its use was revived this past April when Democrats passed the most recent interim government spending package.
Defenders of the earmarks argue that they make up less than 1% of the omnibus bill’s total spending, and that stricter new rules have been applied to them, such as requiring each lawmaker to disclose their earmark on their congressional website and certify that no one in their family stood to directly benefit from it.
Congresswoman DeLauro boasted that the omnibus bill includes $5.4 billion in funding for 3,213 spending projects “fulfilling 98% of Democrat member requests in the House.” The two other legislators who crafted the omnibus bill, Patrick Leahy and Richard Shelby, both of whom are about to retire from the Senate, were responsible for almost a billion dollars’ worth of the earmarked spending for the benefit their political constituents in Vermont and Alabama.
Some of the earmarks are for projects that seem to be worthwhile, such as $50 million that Senator Shelby secured to start an endowment fund at the University of Alabama to support faculty recruitment for engineering and the sciences. On the other hand, more dubious initiatives funded by the omnibus bill include $65 million to revive the Pacific coast’s salmon fishing industry; $3 million to make the roadsides of federal highways more friendly to pollinating bees; $3.6 million for the 3.8 mile-long Michelle Obama hiking trail near the Georgia State University campus in Decatur; $3.5 million to fund the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in Congress; $2 million for the “Great Blacks in Wax” museum in Baltimore, $150,000 for a sidewalk project in Mapleton, Maine, a community with less than 2,000 people; and a special provision enabling the Internal Revenue Service to use part of its budget to hire a chauffeur for the IRS commissioner to drive him back and forth between his office and his home.
On the other hand, the use of earmarks was vigorously defended by veteran Democrat Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, who was able to secure $280 million in earmarks for her state. She told the New York Times, “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for members to give back to their states.”
A SLAP IN THE FACE FOR AMERICAN VOTERS
Rep. McCarthy lamented that passage of the omnibus bill will “make the border worse, it’ll make inflation worse, it’ll make the economy worse, it’ll make the government worse… This monstrosity is one of the most shameful acts I’ve ever seen in this body,” he said, characterizing the bill as jammed with excessive spending on wasteful projects. He also promised that when he and his fellow Republicans take majority control of the House on January 3 with a 222-212 majority, “all this changes.”
In that respect, McCarthy said, the hasty passage of the $1.65 trillion Democrat spending bill during the last days of the lame duck 117th Congress was “a slap in the face” to every American that voted.
“Americans have had enough,” he said. “That’s why millions voted last month to end Democrats’ one-party rule, retire Speaker Pelosi, and usher in a new House Republican majority that won’t waste your hard-earned tax dollars or pass massive government spending bills that cause more inflation and contribute to higher prices…
“Which raises the question: What, exactly, are we voting on?
“I guarantee not a single member that will vote ‘yes’ can tell you everything that is in it [the omnibus bill], because no one has had time to read it. Democrats and some Senate Republicans hope you won’t notice what’s in the bill — but we won’t let them rob our future with no transparency, no accountability, and no restraint,” McCarthy declared.
FUELING EVEN MORE INFLATION
“Here are some of the worst parts of this omnibus,” McCarthy stated. “First, to state the obvious, the omnibus spends too much, increasing the deficit and fueling even more inflation. This bill increases baseline spending by $134 billion. Put another way, it adds another $1.5 trillion over 10 years to the national debt at a time when we are already drowning in $31 trillion in debt…
“Americans are struggling under the weight of inflation caused by Democrats’ reckless spending. But Democrats want to add more debt and inflict more economic pain against you and your family…
“Inflation is higher today than it was 11 months ago when President Biden said it had ‘peaked.’ Families are paying almost $400 more per month than a year ago… Inflation is the economy’s number one problem. The Federal Reserve gets it, which is why it is raising rates. But Democrats still don’t, and this bill will only put more pressure on the Fed and working families.”
WORSENING THE CRISIS AT THE BORDER
McCarthy also pointed out that the bill will make the crisis of illegal immigrants crossing the southern border even worse:
“For example, this bill provides for more migrant shelter services and reduces the number of ICE detention beds. This facilitates the eventual release of even more migrants all across the country. Meanwhile, this disastrous bill reduces funding for border technology that would prevent more illegal crossings in the first place… This bill fails to fund border security measures, which have been erased by the Biden administration. [Yet] it includes hundreds of millions of dollars to somehow ‘manage’ the crisis Biden created by choice, but reduces funds that would actually secure the border…
“Since taking office, President Biden’s open border policies have caused the worst border crisis in American history. On this administration’s watch, record numbers of illegal border crossings, deadly drugs, and even terrorism suspects have come into our country… Enough fentanyl has crossed the southern border to kill every American 10 times over… The fentanyl crisis has turned every community in America into a border community…
“But the worst part,” McCarthy noted, “might be that this bill sets aside $410 million for border security in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and Oman. Radical Democrats will fund walls and technology to protect the Middle East, but not McAllen, Texas. It’s a disgrace.”
REWARDING THE FBI FOR LIMITING FREE SPEECH
McCarthy also referred to the recent revelations of collusion between Big Tech, the FBI, and the intelligence community from the release of the Twitter Files by the company’s new owner, Elon Musk.
“It’s clear,” McCarthy said, “that instead of focusing on actual threats to our country and people, they colluded with private companies — by way of personnel and direct payments — to shut down speech. Not only is that wrong — it is illegal. It is time Congress conducted real oversight and accountability. In 11 days, House Republicans will begin to do just that by using the power of the purse and the power of the subpoena.
“But… this bill provides the FBI with $375 million for a new headquarters and over $11 billion in funding. Why would Congress reward the FBI, despite its appalling attack on our freedom of speech?”
McCarthy also noted that, “Buried in the omnibus is even more money for woke-ism in the government and military. The woke Left wants to further divide Americans against each other based on race … and background. They want to teach our kids that America is inherently bad and that you should distrust and hate your fellow Americans. This bill does nothing to prevent toxic woke ideology from being taught in our children’s classrooms. Worse, this bill funds woke programs throughout the government and around the world.”
McCarthy also noted that the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress did not even try to follow “regular order” by separately debating and passing 12 different bills to fund each department of the federal government.
McCARTHY PROMISES A RETURN TO REGULAR ORDER
The Republican House leader promised that when his party takes over the House, “this same old business as usual approach is over. Republicans will do what the Democrats have failed to do: We will pass legislation on time — and we will do it in an open and transparent manner, and we won’t even think about a negotiation with the [Democrat-controlled] Senate until they do their work.”
“The days of negotiating against ourselves are over,” McCarthy declared. “We are going to reclaim this body’s integrity in service to the American people.”
In a separate statement, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky also wrote, “I’m disappointed in some of my fellow Republicans, who voted against respecting the taxpayers and for empowering themselves to spend your money with reckless abandon.”
Congressman Dan Bishop of North Carolina was blunter in blasting his fellow Republican senators who voted for the omnibus bill, declaring in a tweet, “I never want to hear any of the Republicans who voted for this monstrosity pretend that they’re for fiscal sanity or border security ever again.”
ERASING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS
In a radio interview with John Catsimatidis, Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee condemned McConnell and other party leaders for enabling the omnibus bill to pass.
“Our party leadership turned on Republican voters, turned on the Republican base, turned on most Republican senators,” Lee said. “It has happened before, but this is one too many times. For me, this is the final straw. As Republicans scratch their heads over their disappointing midterms, they ought to consider that voters don’t see much of a defining difference [between them and the] Democrats.”
Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson was also interviewed by Catsimatidis, and condemned “the arrogance of our [Senate GOP] leadership who said, ‘We know better than House members. We’re going to pass this…’”
“I’m not buying it,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, our supporters aren’t going to buy it either.”
THE GOOD NEWS: MORE MONEY FOR THE PENTAGON
McConnell and the Senate and House Republicans who voted for the omnibus bill justified their action by pointing to the fact that it boosts defense spending by $69.3 billion to $858 billion, 9.7% more than the Biden administration’s original Pentagon funding request.
The extra money will fund a 4.5% pay increase for military service members, as well as $17.2 billion to buy additional new weapons. The Navy will get an additional 11 new ships, including three guided missile destroyers and two attack submarines. The Air Force will be able to buy 61 more Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets, and another 15 new Boeing new KC-46 aerial refueling tankers. There is also an extra $11.88 billion to replenish the depleted US stockpiles of arms and ammunition that have already been sent to Ukraine, $9 billion to finance the training and equipping of Ukrainian soldiers, and $7 billion to support US military operations in Europe.
President Biden praised Congress for passing the omnibus bill because it “advances key priorities for our country and caps off a year of historic bipartisan progress for the American people. This bill is further proof that Republicans and Democrats can come together to deliver for the American people, and I’m looking forward to continued bipartisan progress in the year ahead,” Biden added.
US AID FOR UKRAINE REACHES $100 BILLION
The omnibus bill has $45 billion in additional military, economic, and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, in response to the surprise appearance visit to Washington last week by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who pleaded for continued US support for his country’s fight against Russia. It brings to total amount of US aid sent to Ukraine since the Russian invasion on February 24 to more than $100 billion.
The spending package also includes about $40 billion in emergency aid to federal and local agencies responding to various natural disasters, including droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes which have recently affected Florida, Puerto Rico, and other parts of the US.
Previous omnibus spending bills passed at the last minute to keep the federal government operating had been mostly limited to the continuation of already established federal spending programs at existing levels, but this bill, which was the last to be fashioned by the Democrat-controlled 117th Congress, included a number of significant liberal policy changes from healthcare to presidential election rules, which would normally require separate debate and negotiation.
It also increased spending on a variety of other federal health, education, labor, and economic programs sought by liberal Democrats, but which they had been unable to pass by themselves over the past two years.
BANNING TIKTOK AND OTHER POLICY CHANGES
The omnibus bill also included other policy changes which enjoyed broader, bipartisan support. These include a ban on the use of the Chinese-controlled TikTok app on any government-owned device due to the security risk. TikTok, which has an about 100 million users in the United States, shares sensitive data about the location, personal habits, and interests of its users with the Chinese government.
The omnibus bill extends the FAA’s airliner safety certification deadline for two new versions of its venerable 737 jetliner, the smaller MAX 7 and the larger MAX 10. Boeing needed the extension to allow it to fill the many orders from airlines it has already received for the new aircraft, and to remain competitive in the international and domestic market with planes made by the France-based Airbus.
To help prevent a repetition of the January 6 riot at the Capitol, the omnibus bill includes changes to the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which would make it harder for the losing candidate to block the final certification by Congress of a presidential election.
The bill will also allow states to begin reassessing in April which Americans are still eligible for Medicaid, after the expiration of the policy which required Medicaid eligibility to be expanded during the Covid-19 public health emergency.
Other unrelated items that made it into the omnibus bill include a variety of new 401(k) retirement account savings incentives, $1.1 billion in federal law enforcement grants to local governments and to hire more local police, changes in response to the ongoing shortages of infant formula, and revisions in the way the FDA regulates cosmetics.
THE UGLIEST SPENDING BILL EVER
The omnibus bill increases current nondefense-related spending to $772.5 billion, up by almost 6% from the $730 billion in the previous fiscal year’s budget.
It includes increases in spending for food stamps, heating assistance, Pell grants, veterans affairs and Head Start. It provides a $25 million funding boost for the National Labor Relations Board, which harasses business on behalf of big labor unions, and a 30% increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program, as a partial substitute for the now-expired federal child care credit included in Biden’s 2021 Covid relief bill.
A Wall Street Journal editorial condemned the omnibus bill as “the ugliest ever.” The editorial also called the Democrat-dominated 117th Congress “the most spendthrift in history,” because it also passed Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid aid package, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure development bill, Senator Joe Manchin’s $430 billion Inflation Reduction Act, and the Biden administration’s $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act.
McCONNELL’S TWISTED SENSE OF GOP PRIORITIES
But McConnell has no regrets and feels no shame for having worked with the Democrats to facilitate the passage of the wasteful $1.65 trillion omnibus spending bill. In fact, he told reporters, “I’m pretty proud of the fact that with a Democratic president, a Democratic House, and Democratic Senate, we were able to achieve, through this omnibus spending bill, essentially all of our priorities.”
According to McConnell, “Providing assistance for Ukrainians to defeat the Russians is the number one priority for the United States right now according to most Republicans.” But while it is true that most Republicans do not want Vladimir Putin to succeed in his efforts to conquer Ukraine or leave it in smoking ruins, many conservative Republicans are now questioning the wisdom of the Biden administration effectively giving Ukraine a blank check backed by US taxpayer money to continue the fighting, without coming up with a viable exit strategy for bringing the war to a satisfactory conclusion.
Another priority that most Republican voters feel strongly about is the need to halt the massive flow of illegal immigrants at the southern border. The omnibus bill allocates $1.56 billion to Customs and Border Protection, but also specifies that none of those funds may be used to “acquire, maintain, or extend border security technology and capabilities, except for technology and capabilities to improve Border Patrol processing.”
In other words, none of that money can be spent on securing a border to keep illegal immigrants out. It may only be spent on processing that will facility getting more illegal immigrants into this country faster.
For too long, McConnell’s main strategy for keeping the progressive tax and spending proposals of the Biden administration in check has been an overreliance on the moderate political instincts of West Virginia’s Democrat Senator Joe Manchin. But that strategy failed this summer when Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made Manchin a false promise to help West Virginia’s fossil fuel-based economy that Manchin felt he couldn’t refuse.
No doubt McConnell was disappointed by the outcome of November midterm election in which Republicans failed to make the big gains they had expected, because of the poor quality of some of the candidates they choose. But while McConnell is now the leader of a 49-member GOP minority in the US Senate, Republicans did succeed in ousting Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, and did win the overall national popular vote in the midterms for the first time in years.
TIME FOR SENATE REPUBLICANS TO STOP PLAYING DEFENSE
But by giving political cover to the GOP senators who voted in favor of the omnibus spending bill, McConnell betrayed the millions of Republicans across the country who were looking forward to the national agenda that Kevin McCarthy and the new Republican majority in the House would propose as an alternative to Biden’s failed liberal policies.
Now that the omnibus bill has passed, locking in those failed Biden administration policies through the end of next September, the new GOP majority in the House will have to wait nearly a year before they can challenge the administration’s liberal priorities.
To do that effectively, McConnell and other Senate Republicans will need to stop playing defense. They must no longer be satisfied to trade their crucial Senate votes for a few meager concessions from the Democrats, which enabled the Biden administration to pass wasteful spending legislation like the omnibus bill that also implements a woke progressive agenda.
To win back control of their chamber and the White House in 2024, Senate Republicans need to give McCarthy and the new House Republican majority their full support in helping them present the American people with proven conservative alternatives to the failed policies of the Democrats and the Biden administration.