With Congressional popularity between 17 and 24 percent in latter 2019, many may wonder what Congress does to earn its pay. One thing they must do is pass 12 appropriations – or funding – bills. Three months late, they did mid- December. Here is the real news.
When Congress gets behind, due to political spats – and this year the whopper spat over impeachment – spending bills must still be passed. To buy time, Congress can pass a “Continuing Resolution” or CR.
A CR is like an extension on your homework. It gives Congress time to finish what it put off. It keeps spending levels the same as last year, until agreement is reached. Congress passed two CRs this year. The last ended mid-December. While the world was transfixed on (or ignoring) impeachment, staff worked out details and Congress passed all 12 bills, then went home.
Putting aside problems raised by Congress’s penchant for distraction, delay, confusion, disinformation, partisanship, and goofing up the statutory process, here are important things tucked in the fine print – which became law while everyone was talking impeachment.
First, we will not hear about any shutdowns or future CRs, as Congress managed to get all the outstanding bills into law, and President Trump signed them. Put a check in that box.
Next, Republicans insisted the US Defense budget be bumped up $20 billion dollars, to fund a military pay raise, overdue aircraft modernization (specifically for F-35s, F-15s, and CH-47 heavy-lift helicopters), establish Space Command (as China militarizes space), and fill gaps.
Third, the final law resolved – in a novel way – the “border wall” dispute, until next year. While Republicans had to accept a $1.375 billion cap on Homeland Security funding for the wall – well below the President’s five billion request – they insisted President Trump be permitted to reprogram up to $9.5 billion from the military budget for the wall. Democrats tried to cap it at $1.5 billion – but lost. Register a net gain for the wall.
Fourth, along with Defense, Agriculture, Interior and HHS saw slight increases, while departments covered by the other eight appropriations bills saw downticks. Odds and ends included “transportation tax extenders,” which are not tax extenders at all – but extensions of tax credits; for example, supporting short line rail, alternative fuels, and knocking out taxes on employer-provided parking.
Big take-aways are important. On one hand, the total package amounted to a whopping $2.9 trillion dollars, no small change. Of that, $1.1 billion is entitlements, so-called mandatory spending. Until America gets a handle on runaway entitlement programs – which grow annually, along with national debt, we will never reign in federal expenses. That is a long battle.
On the other hand, this final appropriations package suggests intergenerational awareness. The President, with help from congressional Republicans, was able to protect national security – both with targeted defense upgrades and at the southern border. Notably, the President’s southern border policies are working.
The President has also offered a counter-balance – for the first time in a generation – to massive federal spending. He has reduced federal regulations, helped small businesses, promoted wider and deeper labor productivity, employment and economic efficiency, which effectively increases economic output, raises business and personal income, reinforces the strength of the US economy with domestic and foreign investment, consumer spending and confidence. In short, the more productive Americans are, the less government we need.
Other counterbalances are no less important. The President has prevented new mass federal spending programs in health, education and other domestic programs, stiff-armed House-inspired socialist legislation, continued to push less costly and more effective healthcare, and used executive power to make change, from lowering prescription drug prices to increasing choice in education, elevating freedom of speech and religion to recasting old trade relationships.
Net-net, House impeachment may mesmerize the media, capture the imagination of Democrat’s hoping to rewrite the 2016 election, and animate those hoping to disenfranchise Trump supporters, but in the quiet recesses of the federal government, things are happening. One is that the appropriations process is over – and President Trump got more than many imagined possible. Onward to 2020!