The ‘cromnibus’ bill includes lots of funding that agencies don’t want and don’t need.
Playing Santa for the Pentagon.
By Ryan Alexander
A year ago, we had high hopes at Taxpayers for Common Sense that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, flawed as it was, would allow Congress to pass the fiscal year 2015 appropriations bills on time. The $1.014 trillion funding level for fiscal year 2015 established last December – months before it would normally be set – gave Congress a head start.
But by the end of fiscal year 2014 (September 30, 2014) the House had passed just seven of the dozen annual spending bills. The Senate had passed zero. Neither chamber even wrote a Labor, Health and Human Services spending bill, one of the largest. So before Congress headed out of town for the elections, it passed a continuing resolution to fund the government until Dec.11.
Which brings us to last week and the passage of the so-called “cromnibus” – a combined continuing resolution and omnibus spending bill. The good news about the cromnibus is it includes 11 spending bills to fund government through the remainder of fiscal year 2015 (which started October 1, 2014). The bad news is that Congress had only a few days to evaluate more than $1 trillion dollars of funding, and there are actually 12 spending bills necessary to keep the entire federal government functioning. Congress only extended the Department of Homeland Security’s funding through February 27. While this is clearly a consequence of the fight over immigration reform and the recent executive action on immigration, it is worth remembering that immigration isn’t the only function of DHS. Other vital functions include the Coast Guard, Secret Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
At Taxpayers for Common Sense we will be combing through this bill for weeks to come, but even in the week since the 2,800 page tome was released, we’ve found plenty of legislative provisions that demonstrate the many problems with continuing to set spending policy in these rush-to-avoid-crisis moments. There is funding for things the relevant agencies haven’t asked for. For example, for the second year in a row, Congress provides money the Department of Energy hasn’t asked for – support for Centrus, the successor to the United States Enrichment Corporation, which recently emerged from bankruptcy. The cromnibus also increases the request for F-35s by a half a billion dollars over the Pentagon’s request, adding two planes for the Navy and two for the Air Force. There was language that prohibits the Department of Agriculture from saving money by closing or consolidating Farm Service Agency offices. Instead of following the Department of Energy’s wishes and putting the Mixed Oxide Fuel Facility construction project in “cold standby,” lawmakers decided to dump $345 million into the troubled project.
Keeping with the Christmas spirit, lawmakers stuffed the Pentagon’s stocking with $3.4 billion worth of unrequested items like Abrams tank upgrades, more Humvees, Combat Resuce Helicopters, Blackhawk helicopters, and more UAVs, to name a few. The Army Corps of Engineers got $1 billion extra to build projects in what was little more than a slush fund. I can go on, and you can be sure we will as we continue to scrutinize the bill. We have more time than lawmakers did before they voted. To cover the entire bill, members of the House would have had to read about a page a minute between the bill’s release Tuesday night and Thursday evening’s vote. But they’d be speed reading with little sleep; that pace would have allowed them just one hour of shuteye.
Despite our disappointment in this last Congress, we still have hope for the 114th Congress. The only way we survive at Taxpayers for Common Sense as budget watchdogs – and we’ve been at this for 20 years – is by being optimists. We urge lawmakers to roll up their sleeves, set aside electoral pandering and start doing the peoples’ business. The next Congress will have its work cut out for it; the debt limit debate looms, transportation funding expires, fiscal year 2016 funding levels need to be set in the spring, and trade and immigration legislation are on the horizon. Here’s hoping the 114th Congress decides to pave its own way rather than following in the ignominious footsteps of the 113th.