Omnibus Spending Bill Ethics

One silver lining in the despicable, 2000 page omnibus spending bill unveiled by Senate Democrats is that Republicans also have their grubby fingerprints all over it, so even though the bill lumps together a huge and expensive mess of pet Democratic projects, the richly deserved attacks on the monstrosity cannot be easily derided as “partisan.” Another is that it should put to bed forever the revolting slander that  the Tea Party movement was motivated by racism when it proclaimed that it wanted its country back. If there was ever a democratic institution that demonstrated utter contempt for the public, its legitimate and fervently expressed concerns, and the obligation of responsible government, the 2010 Lame Duck Congress is it.

The Senate that did not consider one single Appropriations bill all year chose to create one catch-all garbage bag of a spending bill as the clock is running out—the deadline for passing a 2011 budget is Saturday—making it impossibly long and complex in an attempt to guarantee that it would be passed without knowledge or consideration. This cannot be justified as politics or strategy, though it was clearly both, engineered by the shameless Harry Reid. It is blatantly irresponsible and disrespectful of the legislative process.

Sen. John McCain is threatening to have the bill read on the Senate floor, and Democrats are objecting. That’s right: just reading a trillion-dollar bill and deciding exactly how Congress is proposing to spend the money it doesn’t have —following an election in which the single most important issue to voters was getting Federal spending under control and reducing the deficit, is considered a threat. This tells us all we need to know. We already knew our elected representatives were untrustworthy. Now we know they don’t care what we think, and are incapable of honor, openness, or responsible conduct.

The bill maintains spending for federal agencies at 2010 levels, though 2010 had a $1.3 trillion deficit, the result of non defense discretionary spending rising 24% in the first two years of the Obama Administration. This Congress’s answer to the public’s directive to scale back, pay for new programs, be responsible, get off the path to the fate of Greece and Ireland is…”Stick it!” Though the incoming Republicans  promised to return to 2008 spending levels, the omnibus bill is calculated, by Democrats and some deceitful Republicans, to make fulfilling that promise difficult, if not impossible.

The press, already overwhelmed by the task of trying to follow the machinations surrounding passage of the compromise tax bill—yet another crisis caused by this Congress’s refusal to do its job in a timely, open, responsible fashion—now is charged with trying to let the public know what their gangster Senators and Representatives are passing in its name, with its money, at the risk of its future. New horrors are being uncovered every hour: for example, there is a sinister a mandate that directs the U.S. interior secretary to “examine and make recommendations to Congress no later than September 30, 2011, on developing a mechanism for the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian governing entity and recognition by the United States of the Native Hawaiian governing entity as an Indian tribe within the meaning of Articles I and II of the Constitution.” This pushes forward unquestionably racist  legislation that would endorse a race-based government in Hawaii.

Hey, it’s only offensive if you know it’s there!

Then there are the earmarks, a relatively small part of the total package, but a major part of the insult. The public has rejected earmarks, those deficit-swelling, unvetted  goodies used by Senators and House members to trade for contributions; President Obama supposedly opposes them (we’ll see if he has the integrity to veto a bill swimming with them or to tell his own party’s leaders get rid of them), and the Republican Caucus has vowed to give them up. Nevertheless, this bill has over 6,600, from the pork barrels of dead men (The late Congressman John Murtha and Ted Kennedy both have earmarks associated with them in the bill) as well as millions of dollars worth of local projects attached to the names of Republican Senators who are now condemning the bill…for its earmarks. Several groups have collected them, or flagged the most egregious: Cool season legume research for $350, 000? Making Alcatraz a top flight tourist attraction for 5 million dollars? I think my personal favorite is Harry Reid’s $1 million dollar effort to improve “arthropod damage control.” [If you can stand it, here’s a listing of all the earmarks.]

Typically, some defenders of the indefensible are making the intellectually insulting argument that the hub-bub over the earmarks is silly, since 8 billion dollars is a tiny percentage of the whole package and the deficit is so large that cutting them out will  have no measurable effect—other than saving a piddling 8 billion dollars, of course. This argument is used to justify unfunded spending, like the extension of unemployment benefits, unnecessary and wasteful programs, like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and now earmarks. It is the mantra of your ne’re do well brother-in-law who hits you up for the rent when he’s broke at the end of the month but who likes to pick up the tab for beer when he’s out with his buddies. The late, great Senator Everett Dirkson forever exposed this fallacy when he said, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

But Everett Dirkson was a statesman, back when our leaders took their duties seriously, and respected the system that put them in power. The omnibus spending bill shows that our current leaders respect neither us, the country, their own institution, process, elections, economic realities, or basic ethical principles of fairness, openness, honesty, trustworthiness, diligence or responsibility.

It is frightening. And I have absolutely no idea what we can do about it.

_____________________________

UPDATE: Harry Reid pulled the bill. The fact that such an offensive scheme was even tried is still worthy of concern, but system worked. Barely.

13 thoughts on “Omnibus Spending Bill Ethics

  1. A few months ago, I ran across a quote while randomly surfing the Internet (unfortunately, I’ve forgotten who it was so, while I’d like to give proper credit for it, the best I can do is to state that it is not original to me); “Our country is at that awkward stage: too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards.” Like most good satire, it should not be taken literally, yet makes an excellent point, all the same.

  2. Reading that last paragraph, my brain fired up and I thought :

    “Could you really blame these statesmen for treating us this way? With such callous disrespect? What do we do to them every election cycle? Granted, they do it to each other, but we motivate them into the fight. If a senator refuses to run a dirty campaign, we create special interest groups to run the dirty campaign. Citizens will take down any elected official and then we’re surprised when the Citizens are laying on the ground next to them in our mutually destructive Thunderdome.”

    Granted, Statesmen are supposed to rise above. They sign up for the abuse, for the privilege of leading our country. But how can we earn respect when we don’t even respect them after the election? It’s a vicious cycle that is ripe for a big family therapy session.

  3. Another is that it should put to bed forever the revolting slander that the Tea Party movement was motivated by racism when it proclaimed that it wanted its country back.

    I 100% disagree with this comment. The actions of people other than the tea party after they made their comments does not reflect on the tea party. See what they do in power before you make such a statement. Didn’t you also take the oppositte position due to a tea party favorite recently behaving fiscally insane?

    The bill maintains spending for federal agencies at 2010 levels, though 2010 had a $1.3 trillion deficit, the result of non defense discretionary spending rising 24% in the first two years of the Obama Administration. This Congress’s answer to the public’s directive to scale back, pay for new programs, be responsible, get off the path to the fate of Greece and Ireland is…”Stick it!” Though the incoming Republicans promised to return to 2008 spending levels, the omnibus bill is calculated, by Democrats and some deceitful Republicans, to make fulfilling that promise difficult, if not impossible.

    You imply that Obama has raised the deficit over 2 years. In reality, the 2009 budget was Bush’s and the slightly democratic congress. That raise is not on Obama and this heavily democratic congress. Also, how do you know the intent of the spending bill? If it does make it harder to lower spending, but the reasoning for that is good, then this exception goes out the window.

    New horrors are being uncovered every hour: for example, there is a sinister a mandate that directs the U.S. interior secretary to “examine and make recommendations to Congress no later than September 30, 2011, on developing a mechanism for the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian governing entity and recognition by the United States of the Native Hawaiian governing entity as an Indian tribe within the meaning of Articles I and II of the Constitution.” This pushes forward unquestionably racist legislation that would endorse a race-based government in Hawaii.

    Apart from the slander the term Sioux is, was it a horror set up the Sioux as an Indian tribe? I don’t see anything about modifying the state government of Hawaii. All I see is another indigenous people being recognized as such, and being allowed to set up their own internal governing structure. I’m not a fan of this practice in general, but racist? This provision is a bad example for a, likely, very valid point.

    Cool season legume research for $350, 000? Making Alcatraz a top flight tourist attraction for 5 million dollars? I think my personal favorite is Harry Reid’s $1 million dollar effort to improve “arthropod damage control.” As earmarks, bad, but as part of the budgets of different agencies, I don’t see an issue with any of these things.

    What I see is the democrats playing politics the way the republicans have. Horrible? Yes. Unethical? Yes. Was this a direct response to what the republicans have been doing? Seems like it to me. Does that excuse it? No.

    • All irrelevant to the central point, but in brief:

      1. The Tea Party Movement has always, always, based its arguments on a Congress and Administration that was ignoring the will of the people, that was contemptuous of process, and was driving the country into a place where crushing taxes were going to be required OR the nation would be underwater financially. The tactic used by the media and opponents of the Tea Party was to pretend there was nothing rationally to complain about, except the fact that the President was black, and that this was the only reason for their fervor. They didn’t need this omnibus bill to be proven correct in their basic assessment of the government; I think the evidence was pretty clear all the time, and the racist smear was just typical of how Obama supporters ( and Rangel suppporters, and Eric Holder supporters, and so on, ad nauseum) have used race to deflect legitimate , non racial concerns since the days of the Democratic primaries. Claiming something is motivated by racism with any credibility requires the absence of legitimate reasons. I think the omnibus bill is just short of a legitimate reason for an insurrection, frankly, and anyone who isn’t outraged by it is an arthropod; it certainly makes the argument that the Tea Partiers had nothing to complain about look even more unfair than it was, because they had this group pegged.

      2.Democrats controlled the Congress in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The quibble over Bush vs Obama administration is beside the point. We are, after all, talking about THS bill, and specifically about the fact that this is a lame duck Congress presenting this AFTER elections and in the midst of what everybody but Paul Krugman believes is an urgent deficit crisis.

      3. It is 40 years too late for Hawaii to declare itself an Indian reservation, not to mention the fact that there are almost no “real Hawaiians” left, so the bill is an opening to all sorts of race-based tricks. It’s a terrible plan. Would you vote for it? You think most Americans approve of it, do you?

      4. I have an issue with the specific projects when we can’t pay for them without borrowing, when they aren’t being balanced against competing priorities, when we are paying people not to work and not cutting other expenditures to pay for it, when the Obama, the majority of the public and the Republicans have explicitly rejected earmarks. I like Alcatraz; I think we should be talking about selling some National Parks. Spending money on Alcatraz is like buying a Lexis when you can’t pay the mortgage. If Alcatraz sunk tomorrow, it would have no real impact on the welfare of 99.99999% of Americans.

      5. Oh, goody, the “everybody does it” rationalization. My favorite!

      • 1. Strawman. The attacks against the tea party were based on their timing. Bush and republicans, and then Bush and democrats destroyed fiscal responsibility, but the tea party was silent. It wasn’t until a black man was in the white house that the tea party came about, using language like “Take our country back.”

        2. I’d call this a financial crises more than a deficit crises. No better way to kill a recovery that stop spending. The issue I took was with your cutoff points and implications. You call them quibbles, I call them lies. Could you not make your point without insinuating that a Bush budget was an Obama budget? Oh, right, the tea party only doesn’t like Obama’s budget. Bush’s was fine.

        3. I don’t read anything in that passage that is splitting off all of Hawaii. As I said, what I see is the possibility of setting up a reservation for indigenous people in Hawaii. I think it’s a horrible idea, but not for reasons of racism. I also don’t see why what most Americans want has anything to do with it. If we went by that, we would be a theocracy.

        4. You’ve left ethics and even economics, and moved into partison territory there. You make fun of libertarians, but then attack government for being government. I don’t get the inconsistency.

        5. I was just commenting on your calling out one group without talking about the political realities that led to it. Do you think spending bills would have been passed in March or August? I think they should have tried. I think that was a mistake, not a covert plan to subvert the will of the people.

        • 1. Nope–a canard. Bush was anti-taxes, so the Tea Party concept was inapt. Conservatives opposed Bush’s spending. Most conservatives are Republicans, so it figures that they would have organized when Democrats were in power. Race-baiting has been the MO of Obama’s organization from the start, and it’s despicable.

          2. This stuff is beneath you: it’s standard talking points, “blame Bush” stuff. Congress makes the budget, and the Democrats controlled Congress all three years. Yours is 1) a dodge and 2) irrelevant. I don’t care which party is responsible, or which President. This is renegade government.

          3. I don’t have any problem with a reservation. The bill involves set-asides and racial qualifications for state offices. I should have either used a less complex example, or said more about the plan, which is an abomination….essentially a native rule law for the state.

          I’ll ignore the last sentence here as a favor.

          4. There’s nothing partisan about it. The fact that one party happens to be more responsible (correction: talk more responsibly) about fiscal matters doesn’t make it partisan at all. If Congress is going to spend money in the billions, let it pass bills openly, in time to be considered, in a process that permits priority-setting and debate. What’s partisan about that?

          5. I’m in Washington, and Democrats and Republicans alike generally agree that producing a behind doors 2000 page document that had to be passed without reading and vetting by Saturday to avoid shutting down the government was a ploy. And it’s unethical. Now. I don’t see how past political tricks justify it or make it tolerable, or are relevant at all.

          When Bush was in power, I wrote about his administration’s lack of accountability and responsibility, raising expenditures and fighting two wars without raising taxes to pay for them. I wrote that the Republican Congress was a corrupt disgrace, and deserved to be thrown out. I’m not estopped from objecting to this outrage by the Democratic Congress now. Recklessness, arrogance, irresponsibility and distortion of process are ethics violations. Using a bogus claim of partisan bias to deny them when they are this obvious is mindless ideologue territory. This post was not partisan in the least, but defenses of the bill are 100% partisan. The conservatives who are attacking the bill would have attacked anything, it is true; that doesn’t mean that in this case the criticism isn’t justified.

          • 1. The tea party isn’t anti tax, per se. They are anti spending in general. Obama freaking cut taxes for nearly the entire population. Shouldn’t they be happy with that? How is Obama’s deficit spending and different from Bush’s? Well, other than the recession.

            2. I’m cool with the renegade government idea. I’m just making sure you get your facts and numbers straight. I know one side better than the other, so it’s easier for me to call out when you overstep in that direction. If and when I notice it the other direction, I’ll do the same.

            3. Ah, I haven’t read the bill. Misunderstanding. Though you did a favor to me, I still don’t understand why the will of the majority should be the determining factor in a decision. Part of the job of government is to make the unpopular choice, if it’s the right choice. This doesn’t appear to be the right choice, but I disapprove of the reasoning.

            4. Nothing wrong with your last comment. I was attacking your issue with deficits, when the economics says deficits (in a recession) aren’t really a bad thing.

            5. I haven’t defended the bill. I took issue with the way you chose to attack the bill and what seemed to be leapt to conclusions. I’m not plugged into the Inside the Beltway gossip. I do my best to never cross 198. If it really is a ploy, it’s unethical. We can get into a discussion of temporary unethical behavior to get to the greater good, but I think we might end up swapping positions on that. In sum, with the added information, I tentatively agree with you.

            When Bush was in power, I wrote about his administration’s lack of accountability and responsibility, raising expenditures and fighting two wars without raising taxes to pay for them. I wrote that the Republican Congress was a corrupt disgrace, and deserved to be thrown out. I’m not estopped from objecting to this outrage by the Democratic Congress now. Recklessness, arrogance, irresponsibility and distortion of process are ethics violations. Using a bogus claim of partisan bias to deny them when they are this obvious is mindless ideologue territory. This post was not partisan in the least, but defenses of the bill are 100% partisan. The conservatives who are attacking the bill would have attacked anything, it is true; that doesn’t mean that in this case the criticism isn’t justified.

            I’m just trying to hold you to the same standard you hold everyone else. The bill may be inethical. It may have horrible process behind it and horrible results. Unfortunately, your post on the matter was less than clear. I didn’t touch the bluster. I didn’t touch most of the ethical questions. I wasn’t trying to bring down your entire table by chipping out holes in the table legs. I was just pointing out that, maybe you should use some different table legs.

            • 1. You said “per se” was a weasel word!
              2. Uh, “Tea Party”? That’s a tax reference, I’m pretty sure; I’m from Boston.They are anti-spending because it leads to more taxes. I’m not a member, and I an only a fan in that I think voter activism is healthy; I thought most of the group’s candidates were embarrassing. There are certainly racists in there, but it is not driven by racism.
              3. Your comment about a theocracy was both snide and factually wrong. If Americans really wanted a theocracy, we’d have one. I don’t believe that legislators are bound by the majority; I do believe that elections have to be followed, and passing epic measures without proper debate in lame duck session crosses all the lines of fair and open representative government.
              4. Point taken. But that’s an impossible standard, frankly, and for me, an unnecessary one. I wish I could earn my living writing this stuff; I wish I could devote most of my day to it. Luckily I am a pretty fair one draft writer, and I can fulfill my objective of prompting people to evaluate the ethics of these issues rather than just the politics, the bias, and the bread and circuses reporting of it with the limited time I have to do it.. The posts would be better if I could more carefully consider, write and re-write, but they would also be longer, and if I develop an astute readership to catch what I botch or leave out, we’ll get the job done together.

              • 1) Damnit.

                More 1) Yea, the tea party was a protest against a corporate tax CUT.

                3) Other than your first sentence, I agree with everything you said. Unfortunately, it didn’t address my comment. Though your last response essentially did.

                5.5) Impossible standards? Little ole me?

  4. Tim, I swear to you, I start out respecting the people I vote for. Something horrible happens to them when they cross the Potomac, climb the Hill, and enter the Capitol Building.

    Thanks, Jack, for aiming my frustration in the right direction once again — it’s good to know just where to point the finger. I was getting overwhelmed by these 2,000+ page documents that nobody reads. Soon, I will go look at all-the-earmarks link to see where I (were I king) would cut most of the $8 billion and whether anyone I voted for was responsible. But … I itch to tell you there is one I would defend with all my footed joints:
    Just a tiny mite of a point about your “personal favorite” Harry Reid’s $1 million dollar effort to improve “arthropod damage control.” I think it’s cheap at the price and late coming. Granted, it’s probably likely to be popular because a lot of sane non-hypersensitive people have seen the bed bugs on the wall, and realize they’re Coming Soon To Our Towns! But there’s also that arthropod that’s threatening bee-pollination worldwide; others, already making major inroads in everyone’s food supplies. Pesticides so far have proved a danger to human health and to biodiversity, not to mention a growing arthropod resistance to them. Isn’t this one of the areas our leaders should be bugged about?

  5. p.s. In case you think I’m just being crabby — and “tgt” seems to agree (now, how did that happen??) — the arthropod control is one of those items that cannot fit under the purview of any one agency and demands at least a temporary oversight of its own.

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