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Christmas in the Swamp: The Top Ten Bad Policies in the Continuing Resolution

11/21/2019

This week, Congress passed a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that funds the federal government through Friday, December 20. In recent years, funding the federal government has become an exercise in governing by crisis. Everyone in Congress knows these deadlines exist, but congressional leadership uses them to force members to vote for either CRs or omnibus spending bills packed with other legislative items that have nothing to do with funding the government. If members don’t vote for these bills, leadership says, the government will shut down.

The current CR is a bad deal because it sets up a Christmas for the Swamp, leaving taxpayers with a lump of coal in their stockings. This is not a theoretical notion. In March 2018, Congress passed a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill that included several other bills that had nothing to do with funding the federal government. Why? Because it was one of the few opportunities to legislate all year. Leadership added the legislation that they knew would get the votes they need to pass the bill and relied on the fear of a government shutdown to coax others into voting for something that they may have otherwise opposed.

Although the current CR isn’t quite as loaded as the March 2018 omnibus, it still includes several things that are bad for Americans. Below are the top ten bad provisions included in the CR that Congress passed this week:

  • Only extends spending to December 20 of this year, setting us up for yet another massive omnibus spending package with who-knows-what in it. Congress knows that Americans stop paying attention to politics during the holidays, and leadership will use that to their advantage to leave plenty of goodies under the Christmas tree for lobbyists and special interests.
  • Waives the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act, eliminating any accountability in Congress for increasing spending. Under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act, if Congress increases spending without offsets, it sets up automatic mandatory spending cuts at the end of the year. By waiving this requirement, Congress is only continuing to worsen the budgetary outlook, adding more red ink to a deficit that is already expected to exceed $1 trillion.
  • Repeals $7.6 billion recission in highway funds that was scheduled to come into effect in 2020. Was used to offset projected costs of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. $5.4 billion would have been straight recissions of unauthorized funds, while $2.2 billion would have been taken from funding already allocated to states. Because of a technicality of the federal budget process, this won’t even be counted as a spending increase by the government.
  • Extends the authorization of government mass surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act for three months with zero reforms.
  • Delays scheduled cuts to Medicaid hospital reimbursements until December 20. These cuts were scheduled under ObamaCare as part of gradually shifting more of the burden of its Medicaid expansion onto the states over time. The states are naturally lobbying hard to make sure those scheduled cuts never happen so they can continue to shift the costs of their bad decision to expand a broken program onto other states’ taxpayers.
  • Renews the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute’s (PCORI) funding until December 20. PCORI is the rationing board under ObamaCare that was often referred to as the “death panel” because of its task to decide how to allocate (or not allocate) Medicare funding to reduce costs.
  • Continues the last CR’s extensions of the expiring National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), again avoiding a needed debate on reforming or eliminating this problematic program
  • Reauthorizes U.S. Export-Import Bank, the reauthorization of which FreedomWorks has continually opposed. The Export-Import Bank is the face of cronyism and is used by corporations that can easily get private financing for taxpayer-backed loans and subsidies.
  • Adds in an extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), one of the primary federal direct welfare programs. Once again, this is ducking the need to evaluate and reform the program on its own.
  • Although all of the individual changes above seem to incur fairly small costs on their own (inasmuch as millions or billions of dollars can be called small costs when it’s coming out of our wallets), the CBO has estimated that this CR authorizes a further $77 billion in new mandatory spending over the next ten years.

As one can see, the CR that Congress passed this week is pretty bad for those of us who believe in limited government and individual liberty, but it’s just a precursor of what’s to come only days before Christmas when Americans are preparing for the holiday with their families. If we don’t speak out now and put members in an uncomfortable position, the budget deficit will only get worse and taxpayers will continue to lose while lobbyists and special interests feast on Christmas.

Co-authored by Josh Withrow, FreedomWorks' senior policy analyst.