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House Roll Call 941 (12-16-11) H.R. 2055 Latest title: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012. [Megabus] (Earlier title vehicle: Making appropriations for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and related agencies….) Conference report.

Bipartisan “megabus” passed 296 to 121, 16 not voting. Became Public Law 112-74 (signed by the President 12-23-11). [Democrat selected vote, too.]

Bill Summary:  Funds the majority of the federal government through the remainder of the fiscal year (ending September 2012). Provides for $915 billion in discretionary spending and $126 billion in military funding — maintaining the cap of $1.043 trillion laid out in the debt ceiling deal worked out between Boehner and President Barack Obama in August.

Analysis:   This $1.043 trillion, business-as-usual “megabus” approved by bipartisan majorities should dispel any illusion that partisan politics might provide the answer to America’s economic crisis.

In November, Congress approved a “minibus” consisting of three of the 12 regular annual appropriations bills. The remaining bills were lumped into this megabus.

Lumping so many diverse programs together prevents a determined House, if there were one, from playing hardball with the President and Senate to begin defunding unconstitutional programs.

Nevertheless, it is encouraging that 86 House Republicans broke ranks with their Party’s leadership, joined by 35 Democrats, to vote against the megabus. One of those, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), stated:

“Aside from spending levels being simply too high, this is a 1,200-page bill that we’re voting on only a few hours after it was finalized. We’ll be discovering for months to come what’s actually in it. This is unacceptable. We promised to do better.”

         The substantial resistance to the megabus undoubtedly reflects the fact that congressmen, worried about their re-election, do listen to their constituents. Moreover, they realize that most of their constituents, even if uninformed, are dead set against business as usual.

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.)

Yet business as usual is what we are getting. Within the minibus and megabus packages, for example, the following individual appropriations bills consist largely of unconstitutional “discretionary” spending: Agriculture ($19.8 Billion); Energy and Water ($32.0 Billion); Interior and Environment (most of $27.5 Billion); Labor, HHS, and Education ($139.2 Billion). Total: $218.5 Billion.

Then there are the “mixed” appropriation bills that contain significant constitutional spending along with massive unconstitutional spending: Transportation & HUD ($47.7 Billion); Commerce, Justice, Science ($50.2 Billion).

Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) argued that the conference megabus represented a real cut in federal spending:

“After weeks of tough negotiations with our Senate counterparts — and several tenuous days this past week — we were able to complete a bipartisan, bicameral compromise that rolls back federal budgets, makes smart investments in programs people rely on, and implements policy changes that will bolster American business and our economy….

“As with any compromise, this bill isn’t perfect, but it represents the kind of responsible governing that will help move our country forward.” — “86 House Republicans Vote Against $1 Trillion-Plus Megabus Bill,” 12-19-11.

         We most definitely disagree. After including $10.4 billion in disaster aid not considered in the Budget Control Act cap, the Heritage Foundation calculates that “discretionary” spending actually went up a billion dollars compared to FY 2011.

And FY 2011 turned in a $1.3 trillion deficit.   (Of course, a good share of that deficit is generated by shortfalls in revenue collected for “mandatory” multi-year programs, such as Medicare.)

Representative Jeff Flake also complained: “Whenever we come to an impasse, our leadership says, we canʼt shut the
government down. We havenʼt had the leverage in any negotiation weʼve gone into. Thatʼs whatʼs frustrating to me.

What Flake may not realize is that the fix is in. The leaders of both parties are committed to increasing the size and reach of the federal government.   The partisan battles over small changes in spending levels serve to camouflage that fact.

What America needs is for Congress to use the Constitution as its yardstick to phase out and eliminate decades of unconstitutional programs. Much of the leverage for that course has to come from an informed constituency back home. However, more Congressmen who refuse to accept minibus and megabus packages as a substitute for the individual appropriations bills would be a healthy step in the right direction.

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