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Congress, apparently in a race to more thoroughly deserve its abysmal approval ratings, has conducted a tremendous exercise in bad government this past week. The omnibus funding bill that is set to keep the government paid for through September 2015 has been crafted largely in secret, and once again left lawmakers with only a couple of days to sort through what had been changed in over a thousand pages of text. This is not a rational way to run a government.
Lawmakers have known since early this year that funding the government had to be accomplished by midnight on December 11th. The House, for its part, did pass a majority of the individual appropriations bills that fund each of the major (non-entitlement) segments of the government, while the Senate once again failed to either pass a budget or any funding bills. But the House appropriations were largely a sham in any case because everyone knew that the Continuing Resolution to fund the government ran out in December – after the elections – and thus no real work would get done until a Lame Duck session.
So with bare weeks to go before a funding ran out, a group of lawmakers including the leadership and appropriators of both parties – and very few besides – gathered in a closed room to decide the final form of over a trillion dollars in spending. Instead of an orderly process where new policies are considered via amendments and open votes, both the public and the majority of Congress got to find out what policies are up for a vote only when the entire bill was released. Even in the Republican-controlled House, limited-government conservatives in particular were excluded from most of the conversation, since they might add something controversial to the bill like “the President should follow the law”.
One of the casualties of this opaque establishmentarian process was the massively bi-partisan amendment to Department of Defense appropriations by Reps. Massie/Amash/Holt/Lofgren/etc. to rein in unlimited NSA spying. The amendment passed by an overwhelming 293-123 majority, yet it was stripped from the omnibus bill with no chance for its supporters to protest. A veto-proof majority of Congress, overruled by the powerful few.
So Members of Congress are expected to vote on the whole trillion-dollar package, with little time to find out what is in it, in its entirety, with no chance to amend the bill or to even significantly debate it. Anyone who believes in limited government should be disgusted.