December 17, 2007

Omnibus Follies

As I have written before, omnibus spending bills give Congress a lot of power to create mischief and hide corruption. These appropriations roll up all spending authorizations into a single spending bill, creating fragile alliances that these days rely more on pork than real consensus on priorities. This approach makes it difficult for the White House to use its veto without shutting down vital portions of the federal government, a type of extortion that usually means that Congress has hidden its own selfish interests in this poison pill.

According to Senator Jim DeMint, today's omnibus bill is exactly like your father's:

• Earmarks: Instead of reducing the number of pork projects in the federal budget, the bill drives the number of earmarks up from last year. The bill contains over 8,000 earmarks, bringing the total for 2008 up to over 10,000 earmarks compared to just 2,658 in 2007.

• Spending Gimmicks: Instead of cutting wasteful spending out of the bill to bring its cost down to the President’s level, the bill uses budget tricks and gimmicks to hide at least $14 billion in extra domestic spending.

• Policy Riders: Instead of limiting the package to spending needed to fund government operations, the bill includes unrelated policy items. Many of these riders are backed by special interests, such as organized labor, and could not win passage on their own.

Ten thousand earmarks? Recall that the Democrats promised earmark reform in their 2006 election campaign. Did they intend "reform" to mean that earmarks would quadruple in a year?

As far as the special-interest riders, that's exactly what omnibus spending brings. Its process lends itself to undisciplined spending, because few who gain their own pork will stop to fight against bad spending in other areas of the bill. Because of the scope of the omnibus legislation, it becomes difficult to veto it without being cast as the villain who wrecked consensus on spending .... even when that consensus consists of a conspiracy of the greased.

This bill deserves several vetoes. Bush may decide to use just the one -- and if he does, those who want fiscal discipline and clean government will need to rise in his defense when it comes. If it comes.

UPDATE: The Heritage Foundation is all over this at their new Omnibusting site.


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