Issue: H.R. 83 Latest Title: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015.
Result: Passed in Senate, 56 to 40, 4 not voting. Became Public Law 113-235 (signed by the president 12-16-14). Republicans scored.
Bill Summary: As passed by the Senate (and 2 days earlier by the House) H.R. 83 brings together into 1 omnibus spending bill 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills that fund the federal government through September 30, 2015 (the end of Fiscal Year 2015). H.R. 83 also contains a continuing resolution (CR) funding the Department of Homeland Security through February 27th — hence the measure’s description as a “cromnibus.”
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That totals $1.014 trillion in discretionary spending. In addition, H.R. 83 included $5.4 billion of emergency funding to respond to the Ebola outbreak, $73.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, and $6.5 billion of disaster aid, bringing the total to just under $1.1 trillion.
Note: As too often happens with important measures, the roll call is listed on the senate.gov website under an unrelated bill title. The same was done on the house.gov website.
Analysis: Both supporters and opponents of H.R. 83 advanced “conservative” and “constitutional” arguments to sustain their position. Who was right?
Looking merely at the political line-up supporting the bill suggests strongly that the measure does little to rein in unconstitutional government.
According to The Hill (“Senate passes $1.1T funding bill,” 12-13-14): “The package of appropriations bills, dubbed the “cromnibus,” narrowly passed the House on Thursday night in a 219-206 vote after Obama hit the phones to quell a Democratic uprising against it.
“Most Democrats followed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) lead and voted against the package because of two riders she described as ‘egregious.’… Just after 9 p.m. Thursday, the House wound up passing the bill with the help of 57 Democrats.”
162 GOP members, including Speaker John Boehner and the House GOP leadership, voted for the “cromnibus,” whereas 67 Republicans voted against it. In the face of support from President Obama, House Democrats who opposed the measure were largely posturing to a liberal constituency by focusing on a couple of conservative GOP policy initiatives included in the bill.
However, in the Senate, the measure had the support of several top Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, and Policy Committee Chair Chuck Schumer. GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip Jon Cornyn were also on board.
Appealing to Conservatives
In pushing the funding measure through the House, Speaker John Boehner was careful to cast it in conservative terms:
“The bill contains a number of important measures to fulfill the people’s priorities, including protecting jobs, stopping wasteful spending, reining in government overreach, and funding our national security.
“1. The bill abides by last year’s bipartisan budget agreement. As a result, overall discretionary spending has been reduced by $176 billion since FY 2010.” [Emphasis added] — John Boehner Press Release (12-10-14): “10 Things You Should Know About The Omnibus Appropriations Bill”
However, the modest spending restraint imposed by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (the “Ryan-Murray Agreement,” an earlier compromise with liberals), served primarily to mislead the public into thinking that the GOP leadership was doing the best it could to be fiscally responsible.
While that 2013 deal did avert a public revolt, it failed totally to address seriously the frightening growth in the national debt. Nor did it attempt at all to roll back massive unconstitutional federal departments and programs, which constitute a large portion of federal spending today.
In sending H.R. 83 to the full House for a vote, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee Harold Rodgers (R-TX) issued the following statement:
“This bill will allow us to fulfill our Constitutional duty to responsibly fund the federal government and avoid a shutdown. The 11 Appropriations bills in this package reflect specific, thoughtful, line-by-line decisions to target funds to critical programs, make reductions to lower-priority areas, and wisely invest the taxpayers’ hard-earned money….
“It reflects conservative priorities, yet it is also a compromise bill that can and should have wide bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.” [Emphasis added.]
Congressmen who continue to support unconstitutional federal departments and programs are pushing the misleading notion that Congress has a “Constitutional duty” to fund these programs “responsibly” with taxpayer dollars or deficit spending. They are also pushing the completely false concept that responsible, constitutional government can be achieved with “wide bipartisan support” under the current political configuration in Washington.
A December 12th press release from the office of Congressman Walter Jones (NC-3) included this statement by the congressman:
“As the only member of Congress to vote against every debt ceiling increase in the last 11 years, I cannot in good conscience support a piece of legislation that does absolutely nothing to address the most pressing issue facing our country — out of control spending. President Obama got everything he wanted in this CRomnibus…. Instead of leading the way in trying to curb our reckless spending habit, Congress folded like a cheap suit to President Obama.”
Michigan Representative Justin Amash was interviewed by CNSNews in advance of the vote: “Well, I’m voting no on the omnibus,” Amash said. “But I’m voting no because I don’t support most of the appropriations bills that make up the omnibus, not because of any one particular issue.”
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) strongly denounced the measure during debate on the Senate floor:
“Since last night when it was taken up in the House of Representatives, supporters of the CRomnibus have couched their support in the language of compromise: ‘This isn’t a perfect bill,’ they say. But on the contrary, it is perfect. As a representation of everything wrong with Washington, DC, as an example of exactly the kind of unfair, unrepresentative legislating that triggered successive electoral waves of bipartisan condemnation in 2006, 2008, 2010, and again in 2014—the CRomnibus is perfect.
“Members of my party do not have the luxury of blaming this latest failure on the outgoing Senate majority. No. This one is on us….
“Americans just last month thought they went to the polls and voted for change to stop this kind of thing: unread, 1,000-plus page bills written in secret, filled with hidden favors for special interests while funding the lawlessness of an out-of-control President. Americans looking for that change will not find it in this bill. Rather, they will find what the discarded revolutionaries of ‘Animal Farm’ found at the end of George Orwell’s classic: ‘The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.’”
Omnibus Continues Big Government
Several GOP legislators complained about the common leadership tactic of advancing massive legislation facing unnecessary last-minute deadlines.
Congressman Walter Jones pointed out a major problem with H.R. 83, typical of such last-minute massive legislation: “How can you take a 1,600 page bill, get the rule on it today, and expect Members to cast a sensible vote on that kind of bill? You can’t do it. I don’t even know what’s in the bill.”
Prior to the House vote, The Hill reported: “House conservatives are griping that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is putting the squeeze on them by rushing through a $1 trillion spending bill in Congress’s last week in session.
“Appropriators are expected to roll out the legislation early next week, giving critics scant time to figure out what’s inside before they cast their votes by the end of the week….
“‘Here we are doing the appropriations bill the last couple days’” before a government shutdown, conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) said in an interview this week. ‘That’s not to squeeze Harry Reid. That’s to squeeze us.’…
“‘They don’t want you to read it, that’s why! You think they want you to analyze all the mischievous items in there?’ Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) told The Hill.
“Asked if the timing of the plan was aimed at jamming the Senate or House conservatives, Jones replied: ‘I think its aimed at screwing over the American people. You can quote me on that.’”
The Department of Education
We could examine the continued funding in H.R. 83 of several largely unconstitutional departments, such as the Department of Energy (further cuts to the budget of EPA were included, however), the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services. However, as an example, let’s look at just one area — funding for the unconstitutional federal involvement in education.
According the House Appropriations Committee summary:
“Early Childhood Education and Care — Administration for Children and Families (ACF) — The bill provides $17.8 billion in discretionary resources for the ACF, which is a $108 million increase. This includes a $75 million increase for activities within the Child Care and Development Block Grant to improve the quality and safety of infant and toddler care. The bill also continues increased funding provided in fiscal year 2014 for the expansion of the Early Head Start program, providing additional early education opportunities for toddlers from low-income families throughout the country. [Emphasis added.]
“The bill funds the Department of Education at $70.5 billion. This is $133 million [0.2%] below the fiscal year 2014 enacted program level.
“• Title I Program – These basic grants to local school districts to help children become proficient in reading and math are funded at $14.4 billion, an increase of $25 million above the 2014 level.” [Emphasis added.]
Obama’s Usurpation of Authority re Immigration
Eleven of the 12 regular appropriations bills funded the federal government through September 30 —the end of Fiscal Year 2015. This effectively prevents the incoming GOP House and Senate majorities from fighting over spending in those areas during a large part of 114th Congress — likely a major reason why President Obama was so eager to support H.R. 83.
The 12th appropriations bill would normally fund the Department of Homeland Security and immigration policy. This time, however, the GOP leadership chose to fund the president’s executive actions regarding immigration only thru February 27, arguing that the 114th Congress would be in a better position to force the president to reverse his actions on immigration.
Some conservative members objected to any postponement of a funding fight over immigration (see below). However, the refusal of the GOP leadership to follow the same “strategy” regarding the 11 other appropriations bills demonstrates that it is not really serious about rolling back unconstitutional government.
Following a vote to limit debate on H.R. 83, Senator Ted Cruz raised a point of order challenging the constitutionality of the section that would continue to fund the president’s amnesty actions. Ahead of the vote on his point of order, Cruz stated: “If we agree it is indeed unconstitutional, we have no business funding it when the GOP controls Congress. The Constitution matters, and we must defend it.”
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., disagreed: “While the president’s executive actions on immigration are reprehensible and deserve a strong response, I value the oath I took to support and defend the Constitution too much to exploit it for political expediency. The Constitution gives Congress the power to fund the government so to assert that the House-passed spending bill is unconstitutional is not only inaccurate but irresponsible.” — Roll Call (12-13-14): “Senate Rejects Cruz Point of Order on Obama’s Immigration Action”
Of course, it is absurd to suggest that the Constitution gives Congress the power to fund unconstitutional federal programs. In fact, most congressmen regularly violate their oath to support and defend the Constitution by approving unconstitutional programs and spending. That one fact is America’s great problem that must be reversed. Fortunately, Senator Corker did subsequently stand with those who cast their votes against H.R. 83.
We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)