This big spending sellout is what Trump voters voted for?
There was a reason that FDR opposed the unionization of public sector workers. Rather than the natural negotiation tension between a company owner and an employee in which the owner is trying to conserve his capital while the employee across the table tries to get as much as he can, when a politician or bureaucrat is negotiating with a public sector union, they’re both on the same side of the table, spending taxpayers’ money, usually without a taxpayer representative anywhere nearby. It’s a recipe for fiscal disaster and perhaps national economic suicide.
The same is true, as proved this weekend, when Republicans and Democrats, having colluded to put off legislation needed to “keep the government open” until the waning days of existing federal spending authority, crafted a “deal” in which taxpayers are utterly betrayed. Government by emergency is never good for the taxpayer, and this emergency was, as so many are, a product of bipartisan conspiracy.
Republicans (notwithstanding President Donald “No Entitlement Reform” Trump) market themselves as the party of fiscal restraint. But once “last-minute” negotiations begin on a spending bill under the guise of “we can’t have a shutdown,” the Republican walks around from his side of the table, sits next to the Democrat, gives him a big hug, and says “I’ll vote for yours if you vote for mine.”
(For those interested in an insider’s look at how this machine works, I recommend Congressman Ken Buck’s new book, Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption Is Worse Than You Think.)
The result? A trillion-dollar deal to fund government for the remaining five months of this fiscal year in which Democrats and Republicans, or more precisely the big-spending subset of Republicans, each get a few items on their wish lists and taxpayers get shafted.
The Trump administration wanted an additional $30 billon for the Defense Department. They got a $12 billion increase, enough to begin making up for Barack Obama’s shameful disregard for our national defense.
Team Trump also wanted $3 billion for additional “border security,” but got half of that amount, again enough for the time being. Importantly, this money is not for a border wall; that particular Trump desire was abandoned during this “negotiation.” [UPDATE: During a Tuesday press conference, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney claimed that some of this money will in fact be used for a “20-foot high steel wall,” just not a brick-and-mortar wall, adding “that’s what Democrats don’t want you to know.]
What else did the GOP give up? Any effort to remove federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Any effort to penalize “sanctuary cities.” Any effort to substantially reduce funding for any department of the federal government.
One truly bipartisan spending priority was included: An additional $650 million to fight the nation’s opioid epidemic. A worthy cause though I doubt the money will be used to great effect. But the rest of the “bipartisanship” looks like a Democratic dream come true:
- $295 million to bail out Puerto Rico’s imminent Medicaid insolvency.
- The Department of Energy’s “Department of Science,” an office that President Trump’s recent “skinny budget” proposed to cut $900 million from, received a $42 million budget increase.
- The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy got a $17 million increase. Algore can’t believe his luck.
- The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which the Trump budget zeroed out, gets a $25 million increase to roughly $1.2 billion for this fiscal year.
- The bill gives a $550 million spending increase for “disadvantaged students” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (and only a $9 million increase for federal charter school initiatives because Democrats hate charter schools).
- Additional Pell Grant funding to cover college summer school.
And saving the best for last: The “bipartisan agreement” includes $2 billion of increased funding for the National Institutes of Health. If this doesn’t prove that the DC definition of “bipartisan” is Republicans accepting Democratic positions, nothing does.
The NIH’s budget is around $32 billion. President Trump has proposed a $5.8 billion cut to NIH funding. And yet, once Republicans finished their hard bargain with the party that doesn’t control anything in the federal government, the NIH received a bigger increase in funding than border security did.
Do you think that is what Trump voters thought they were getting? And yet it’s clear that President Trump will sign this disastrous, immoral, unprincipled bill.
So let’s go back to politics, shall we? There are only two possible explanations for these results:
- Republicans were massively outmaneuvered (again) by Chuck Schumer.
- Many Republicans are all talk when it comes to fiscal responsibility.
Which do you think explains this “deal”?
OK, it was a trick question; the answer is, of course:
- All of the above.
Let’s remember how this game is played: Democrats and Republicans agree to wait until the last minute to make a deal, forcing both of them to abandon their stated priorities in order to “get to yes” quickly. “Please,” the Republican faux-conservative says to the Democrat, “don’t make me vote for that NIH funding increase.” “Please,” says the Democrat, “don’t make me vote for your border security in exchange.” It’s political “Br’er Rabbit” in the big-spending briar patch.
Both sides claim that the risk of a government “shutdown” is unacceptable, allowing Republicans to excuse their sinful burdening of my children and yours, and generations to come, with hundreds of billions of dollars in additional debt with each passing year. (Democrats don’t try to excuse themselves for it; they just claim that they’re “investing.”)
But do the people of the United States really give a rat’s posterior if the government “shuts down”? People cared so little last time that Barack Obama closed the World War II Memorial just to make people feel some pain, a move that backfired spectacularly. Whatever anti-GOP short-term movement in the polls occurred reversed itself rapidly.
And this time, Republicans would, more credibly than at any time in recent memory, be able to argue that a shutdown is the fault of intransigent Democrats.
Instead, they let Chuck Schumer, keeping a remarkably firm grip on vulnerable Senate Democrats who are likely to lose their re-elections in 18 months, drive a bill such as you would have expected when Barack Obama was in the White House and Democrats had a Senate majority.
Unfortunately, since this bill will have the support of many Democrats, it can’t be stopped by a few courageous Republicans standing against it, whether in the House or even with a Senate filibuster. But I’d love to see Justin Amash and the entire Freedom Caucus in the House, and Mike Lee and Rand Paul and Ben Sasse and other fiscal conservatives in the Senate give it the old college try. This “deal” must not sail through unopposed (although it’s easy to oppose a bill when you know it’s got the votes without you).
The best Republican strategy is to call Chuck “Fake Tears” Schumer’s bluff and let the Democrats “shut down” the government (which means that much of government keeps operating). The fact that they haven’t shows that deep down too many Republicans like increasing spending. It’s utterly shameful. It also will make tax reform that much more difficult as hypocritical Democrats wail and rend garments over a burgeoning budget deficit.
Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence is spouting “we could hardly be more pleased” nonsense, as are some Congressional Republicans and the Speaker’s office, trying to put lipstick on this pig. It’s one thing to play the happy-political-spin game. It’s another thing to do so when you’re abandoning any pretense of principle, and maybe the raison d’être for your party, while handing the keys to the kingdom to the Senate Minority Leader.
Republicans told us repeatedly: “Give us congressional majorities and the presidency and we’ll do our jobs, we promise.” Instead, this “conservative” party, now led by a vaunted great negotiator, gets rolled, yet again, by the oiliest man in politics. And it’s hard not to think that they sorta liked it.