“A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”
That quote is attributed to former Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen (though there are questions about whether he actually said it). Nevertheless, it reveals a lot about the way the federal government spent money 40 years ago.
I can only wonder what Sen. Dirksen would quip today.
Congress has once again approved a multi-hundred billion dollar spending bill, this time to fund the government to the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30). All told, this bill piles an additional $410 billion onto a $1.3 trillion deficit this year, and a more than $10 trillion debt overall. These figures are so massive that it’s hard to comprehend them.
One of the basic functions of Congress is to produce annual funding bills that keep the government operating. These bills, known as appropriations bills, fund the respective sectors of the federal government — for example, one bill funds the Justice Department, another funds the Interior Department, and so on.
But by the end of last year, the Democrat-led Congress failed to approve nine of the total 12 appropriations bills. Subsequently, the government has operated under a temporary measure, known as a “continuing resolution,” until Congress approved the remaining funding bills.
Instead of taking up these appropriations bills individually, the Democrat majority bundled the remaining ones into a massive, pork-laden $410 billion “omnibus” spending bill.
Like the previous year, this bill was unveiled just as the temporary continuing resolution was about to expire. In other words, it was presented on a “take it or leave it” basis: approve this bill, or risk the government shutting down.
This political threat pressured members to approve a bloated spending bill quickly, leading to wasteful spending. An omnibus bill corrupts the appropriations process, which was designed to ensure that individual spending bills could be carefully scrutinized and amended. Bad bills can be opposed, good bills supported. With an omnibus package, good provisions are coupled together with bad ones, and legislators are forced into an “all or nothing” position.
I think it is worth spending the time necessary to draft legislation that provides the government with the resources it needs while safeguarding taxpayer dollars, especially considering the wasteful and extraneous spending projects in the omnibus bill. For example, there are earmarks for tattoo removal in California, tens of thousands for “midnight basketball” in Los Angeles, and over a quarter-million dollars for “sea voyages in ancient-style sailing canoes” in Hawaii.
Some senators, including Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, attempted to strike these earmarks, but their efforts were rejected by largely party line votes. Also rejected was an amendment cosponsored by Sen. John McCain to prohibit the funding of projects that financially benefit a lobbying firm under federal investigation for corruption.
And while the bill spends billions on earmarks, it effectively kills worthy initiatives, such as the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. Created in 2004, the program has been successful in giving low-income families in the District of Columbia the opportunity to send their children to schools of their choice, instead of being forced into the public school system that ranks last in the nation in student achievement.
Senate Democrats wound down the clock and forced Congress to consider a bloated spending bill without adequate time to improve it. Democratic Indiana Senator Evan Bayh recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “The omnibus debate is not merely a battle over last year’s unfinished business, but the first indication of how we will shape our fiscal future.” He went on to urge, “the Senate should reject this bill. If we do not, President Barack Obama should veto it.”
Unfortunately, his colleagues did not heed his advice.
Taxpayers deserve better, especially when it comes to 410 billion of their dollars. As Sen. Dirksen would have said, that adds up to “real money.”
U.S. Senator Jon Kyl is the Assistant Republican Leader and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at www.kyl.senate.gov.