Monday, December 21, 2015

The Ominous Omnibus, a Favored Washington Vehicle

"Fiscal fights fade as Congress backs huge omnibus budget bill"

Noun: A vehicle carrying many passengers; used for public transport.

In this particular case, the ‘vehicle’ drives off with your tax money and leaves you standing at the curb, required to reach deep into your pockets to pick up the tab. Requirements:

A bill that must be passed, a deadline too short to consider the details and an up-or-down vote without discussion are the preferred ingredients of this legislative stew. The carrot is favored funding for each legislator's personal district and the stick is time run out. Salt and pepper to taste.

Congress whizzed this high and inside fastball past the public just in time to adjourn itself for the Christmas holiday. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

To be fair to the unfair, this is nothing very new in our panting and wheezing Congress. Omnibus legislative ‘packaging’ goes back to the 1980s. Ah, the ‘good old days’ of yesteryear, when we patched up so many small and embarrassing deficits of government. 

That’s when, among other things, targeted lobbying to individual election campaigns was legalized by our Congress—saving the embarrassment of Senators and Congressmen being brought up on charges of graft and/or fraud and sent off to the pokey. In a spate of ‘creative legislative inventiveness,’ Congress saw fit to make graft and/or fraud perfectly legal.

A stroke of genius. Self-serving perhaps, but Congress first serves itself and only then invites constituents to the dinner table.

Omnibus legislative packaging is bullet proof because no one knows (or really cares) what is in the deal. It brings Christmas to Washington at various times of the year. Sleigh-bells need not necessarily ring. Each Representative or Senator has multiple chances to dance ‘round the tree and take home a prize. This is because such legislation is designed to hit specific time constraints, such as federal accounting and annual budget deadlines. Few presidents will veto such a bill for a misappropriated favor here, there or everywhere.

Such a deadline conveniently exists at the moment, regarding funding the government for another year. The threat is a federal shutdown—hauled out with such regularity that we sleepy Americans have become used to the phenomenon.

“Omigod, a shutdown! What will happen to my Social Security check (Medicare payment, Food Stamps, college loan—pick your own favorite)?”

“Not to worry, they always solve it.”

And they do. Bless their avaricious little hearts, they always do, but at a price.

The price is a contract here or there that no one asked for, an occasional ‘bridge to nowhere’ or a billion dollar ship the Navy hasn't asked for to avoid closing a shipyard. To paraphrase the late Majority Leader, Everett Dirksen, “a billion here and a billion there and pretty soon we’re talking about real money.”

Indeed we are. Your money and my money.

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