Omnibus or Omnibust? Congress Debates Trillion-Dollar Deal
This New Year's, one person who isn't going on a diet is Uncle Sam. In the spending package released yesterday, Congress blows by the old sequester caps, giving leaders a trillion-dollar rope to string along taxpayers. The bill, which at 1,582 pages is about as long as the local phone book, was more than three and half years in the making. But not everyone thinks the final product was worth the wait. With the two parties racing to pass the bill, it's almost impossible to give each department's proposal the scrutiny it deserves. And, as Americans know from the ObamaCare debate, a bill longer than the Gutenberg Bible leaves plenty of pockets to hide inefficiencies, duplicities, and pork.
Still, if Congress gives this omnibus a green light, it would mark the first time since 2011 that leaders have managed to bundle all 12 appropriations measures into one fiscal year proposal. Since then, the House and Senate have been relying on a patchwork process of continuing resolutions, or CRs -- short-term deals that helped the two sides avoid major sticking points like abortion funding and ObamaCare.
Under an umbrella bill like this one, government agencies would be funded through September 30. Congressman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who tag-teamed with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to craft the plan, said, "As with any compromise, not everyone will like everything in this bill..." So far, that seems to be the case, as conservatives air plenty of legitimate gripes about the plan.
For pro-lifers, the outcome was a mixed bag. The FRC team worked around-the-clock to defend key policy riders, like the Hyde, Helms, Dornan, and other amendments that ban taxpayer-funded abortions in D.C., the federal government, and foreign aid. After a long battle, we also managed to gouge $10 million from "family planning" funds for organizations like Planned Parenthood in Title X and preserve the modest $5 million allotted for abstinence education.
Despite that success, Republicans failed to achieve one of the biggest priorities of the pro-life community: attaching conscience protections to a must-pass piece of legislation. As Sen. Mikulski said, "ObamaCare lives another day." But for millions of Americans, religious liberty does not. For months, groups like FRC had stressed the importance of exempting employers from the HHS mandate. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) pushed intently behind the scenes for language that would spare Americans from paying for pills and procedures that violate their beliefs -- but in the end, the White House won out. Although the bill makes no meaningful dent in ObamaCare, it does take a $1 billion bite out of the program's slush fund.
For military hawks, the Defense Department will not suffer as much as last year, when it bore the brunt of the spending cuts. But based on the growing attacks on religious freedom and the latest revelations of Robert Gates, monetary reductions should be the least of our concerns when it comes to the military. Even veterans are getting the short end of the omnibus stick, as a wave of pension cuts are set to take effect in retirement pay. "I'm glad the omnibus bill restores benefits for disabled veterans and spouses of those who have died in harm's way," Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) explained. "But we should be restoring our full promise to our service members, and I will be working to ensure this happens."
At least proponents of school choice will be happy to know that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) won his $16 million fight to fund a voucher program in D.C. Unfortunately, that pales in comparison to the $1 billion bump that the controversial Head Start and Early Head Start are celebrating -- despite the government's analysis that the programs not only failed kids, but may have harmed them in the process!
IRS: Taxing the Limits of Lawlessness
The IRS had the "most despised government agency" title locked up -- until the Justice Department entered the running. As if the Attorney General's addiction to scandal wasn't enough, the DOJ announced that it would most likely not be pursuing criminal action against the IRS employees who targeted conservatives and pro-family groups for harassment. In an announcement that is sure to create more controversy than it clears up, the FBI explained that it hadn't found evidence of the "enemy hunting" the agency had been accused of.
Officials told the Wall Street Journal that they were chalking up most of the political bias to "mismanaged bureaucracy" and confusion over the rules the IRS was enforcing. Unless agents uncover something in the next few days, the IRS will be off the hook for everything from leaking sensitive donor information to denying tax exempt status to organizations simply for their conservative leanings. "They say the fox isn't good to guard the henhouse," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Well, "the fox is probably not good to investigate the henhouse either. I think these investigations need to be done by independent people outside of the administration."
Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and our good friend Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) were outraged by the FBI's findings and pinned the blame on the man whose name has become synonymous with lawlessness: Eric Holder. "These revelations further undermine the credibility of the Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department under his leadership," the duo said in a statement. "Given the circumstances, there is little reason for the American people to have confidence in this investigation." Although the IRS is set to lose a half-million dollars in funding in the omnibus, that's barely a slap on the wrist for the headache and financial loss that groups like National Organization for Marriage have suffered at the hands of the IRS's spiteful liberals. Making matters worse, the House Oversight Committee had identified the person responsible for the illegal leaks, but under the law, could do nothing to punish him.
While a lack of supervision may be responsible for breeding corruption, a criminal act is still a criminal act. The person(s) responsible for breaking the law should be held accountable for their actions, and those responsible for mismanagement should be demoted or fired. This lack of trust should concern every freedom-loving American-because when the trust in the Obama administration bottoms out, it will turn into a disdain for government, which will have long-term effects for government at every level. The lawlessness of the Obama administration is leading America down a path toward anarchy.
But don't take my word for it. Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a liberal judge who is probably a favorite of the President's, held a similar view when he observed: "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law, it invites every man to become a law unto himself, it invites anarchy."
Pat Fagan and Rep. Chris Smith: Abortion Myth-busters!
With the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" working its way through Congress, there's no better time for FRC to feature one of the bill's biggest champions (and co-sponsor), Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). At noon tomorrow, January 15, he and FRC's Dr. Pat Fagan will tag-team on a discussion, "Abortion Myths and Facts: New Research Challenges Abortion Advocates' Claims." As part of the lecture, FRC is unveiling the pro-life movement first in-depth analysis of the demographics of abortion. Don't miss this important event, which you can watch either in-person at FRC headquarters (801 G Street, NW, Washington, D.C.) or by live webcast. To register for the event, click here. Lunch will be provided.
** Last night, FRC's Cathy Ruse stopped by CNBC's "Kudlow Report" to compare conservatives' approach to poverty with the President's (government dependence). Watch the exchange below.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.