By: Shiam Kannan
On Wednesday, March 21st, 2018, Congress unveiled its “Omnibus” Spending Bill: an enormous, 2,000+ page piece of legislation, costing $1.3 trillion, that would keep the government running until September 30th, thus averting any potential shutdown for at least six months. Although the bill contained many provisions that appeased many of the concerns of legislators on both sides of the aisle, it still drew sharp criticism - especially from fiscal hawks who wanted to stop such a massive spending increase, and liberals who felt that the bill didn’t address many pressing concerns, such as the fate of the undocumented immigrants whose DACA coverage was nullified by President Donald Trump in September of 2017. However, the bill did eventually pass both houses of Congress with bipartisan support: 145 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted for the Omnibus in the House, while 90 Republicans and 77 Democrats voted against it.
On the bright side for Republicans, the Omnibus does provide funding for a number of conservative priorities: it boosts defense spending to $700 billion, the largest year-to-year increase in the defense budget within the last 15 years. And as per President Donald Trump’s push for increased border security funding, specifically for the construction of a wall, the bill allocates roughly $1.6 billion for border security. Unfortunately, this may not seem so great considering that Trump had initially requested $25 billion for the wall. Furthermore, the bill provides $4 billion in funding to address the opioid crisis, a bipartisan priority that has especially been emphasized as a pressing issue by President Trump.
However, it is not all rainbows and sunshine for Republicans, as they have had to compromise on many key tenets to get this Omnibus passed, especially in terms of fiscal responsibility and cutting domestic spending. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Tea Party firebrand and conservative stalwart, has publicly stated his opposition to the spending bill, claiming, “Shame, shame. A pox on both Houses - and parties. $1.3 trillion. Busts budget caps. 2200 pages, with just hours to try to read it.” Furthermore, conservatives have expressed concern towards the fact that the bill does not address important policy changes that they have been pushing for. For example, the bill continues to fund Planned Parenthood and does not defund Sanctuary Cities, even though they brazenly violate federal immigration law. And the bill forbids the $1.6 billion allocated to border security from being spent on the construction of a wall. Rather, the money can only be used to renovate existing barriers, such as fences.
On the other side of the aisle, apart from concerns that the bill does nothing to address DACA, Democrats have warmed up to the Omnibus due to its domestic spending increases. The Omnibus increases the funding for Amtrak by $650 million. The National Institutes of Health receives $3 billion in additional funding. The Community Development Block Grant Program, one which the president has called to be abolished, will instead see its budget double, from $2.8 billion to $5.2 billion. The TIGER program, a transportation grant program which began with Obama’s post-recession stimulus, will receive nearly three times its current budget: $1.5 billion.
President Trump consistently voiced opposition to the bill, even going as far as threatening to veto it in a tweet, on the grounds that “the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded.” However, since it provided the military funding that Trump had long called for, he ultimately decided against vetoing the bill and signed it, albeit reluctantly, saying that “I will never sign another bill like this again.” In the wake of signing the Omnibus, Trump called on Congress to give him line-item veto powers so that he would have the power to unilaterally cut wasteful spending.
However, the major economic concern regarding the Omnibus would be its catastrophic effect on the federal debt. It is estimated that the Omnibus will add $1.7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The Committee’s projections also reveal that yearly spending on debt interest would skyrocket from $263 billion, where it was in 2017, to $963 billion by 2028. The bill, along with February’s budget plan, both jeopardize American fiscal health and increase government spending dramatically. Combined with the Trump tax cuts from December that will decrease revenue substantially, this bill all but guarantees soaring deficits. The fact that a plurality of Republicans voted for the Omnibus demonstrates the extent to which the GOP has drifted away from its traditional tenets of “small government” and “fiscal responsibility.”
The Omnibus will keep the government funded for the next six months, and will also nullify any possibility of a government shutdown within that time period. It provides for both Democratic and Republican priorities. But is it worth it? The bill is chock-full of runaway spending, with no compensation anywhere. Add this to February’s budget deal and December’s $1.5 trillion tax cuts, and the result is a recipe for trillion-dollar deficits. Spending that requires borrowing is spending that shouldn’t be happening, regardless of whether it goes to defense or welfare. Politicians go to Washington every year promising to rein in this endless cycle of government spending, but the latest Omnibus merely shows how these very politicians have now become a part of it.