The Fiscal Year 2020 Spending Bills are Out and It’s Not Pretty
Dec 18, 2019 by AFP
By Alison Acosta Winters
Once again, Congress has foisted a mammoth, unsightly Christmas Tree on Americans right before flocking home for the holidays.
Sadly, these two spending bills do not serve the broad interests of Americans. With $1.4 trillion in discretionary spending, they represent a 4.8% increase over last year’s record high discretionary spending levels. Of course, that will just get things started – no doubt there will be supplemental disaster and emergency spending bills passed before all is over.
Remember, to get to these levels, Congress and the administration negotiated to blow through the last two years of spending caps in the Budget Control Act without even paying lip service to the BCA’s intent to control spending. And that was after even higher spending increases in the previous spending deal.
Any time legislation has something for everyone to like, we should all hold on to our wallets. Perhaps we can be thankful that the bill isn’t worse. But beyond the fiscal and economic costs to American taxpayers and workers, the numerous policies unrelated to spending included in the bill also mean we should be worried about the integrity and transparency of the legislative process.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- No shutdown: If passed and signed into law prior to midnight December 20, when the current continuing resolution expires, this will keep all government agencies operating and avoid another polarizing government shutdown.
- Repeals some tax increases: The bill permanently repeals harmful taxes from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — the medical device tax, the Cadillac tax and the health insurance tax. Even though these are positive policy changes, they should have been considered and passed on their own merit. And more profoundly, this is final proof that the Affordable Care Act was not sustainable and the policies included to pay for it were not serious. This should be a warning bell that punitive, harmful taxes to pay for expansive, new policies like Medicare for All are hollow promises.
- Shines a light on secret law: The funding bill also “strongly urges” the attorney general to publish all legal opinions created by Office of Legal Counsel. OLC is a part of the Department of Justice and drafts consequential legal memorandums relied on by the president and federal agencies – they include legal arguments on topics such as what type of conduct constitutes torture, when U.S. citizens can be subjected to lethal force when they’re on foreign soil, and how executive orders should be interpreted. The pending bill’s language doesn’t go far enough to ensure that the public is able to review the legal reasoning underpinning critical decisions, but it is a step in the right direction.
- Spending Levels: There’s still too much spending. The deal struck earlier this summer set spending levels too high and, worse, did not replace the expiring Budget Control Act caps that were set to expire in fiscal 2021.
- Even though base spending is within the budget limits agreed to this summer, emergency and disaster spending pushed numbers higher. This could well increase before the end of the fiscal year. Extra spending outside the caps pushed total spending up 4.8% after accounting for disasters and emergencies.
- No transparency and rushed voting: The more than 2,300 pages of bill text were released less than 24 hours prior to House debate and voting. This “pass the bill in order to know what’s in the bill” approach to legislating makes a mockery of House rules on transparency and informed debate and voting. That’s ironic, considering the rules were changed just this year from an ill-defined three days to 72 hours to prevent timing shenanigans. It should also be a warning siren for all Americans. Congress does not know, cannot know, what’s in these massive bills, yet it votes on them anyway.
- Budget by crisis: When the fiscal year began on October 1, not one appropriations bill had been signed into law. The second continuing resolution is set to expire in just days, at midnight on December 20. Once again, Congress has presented its members with a Hobson’s choice between voting for legislation and bad policies they would otherwise vote against, or voting for a government shutdown. This budgeting by crisis leads to even higher spending and bad policies.
It’s time for lawmakers to stop using their own dysfunction as an excuse for bad policy – this practice should be ended. One tool to end the practice would be through an automatic continuing resolution like the End Government Shutdowns Act by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), or the Prevent Shutdowns Act by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
- Smoking: The minimum age to purchase smoking products, including cigarettes and vaping, is raised from 18 to 21. This is another Congressional affront to federalism, taking decisions out of the hands of state policymakers where it rightfully belongs
Americans deserve better than budget-by-crisis, must pass legislation. These bills, like many others before them, left lawmakers with a choice between bad policy and a government shutdown. It’s time for lawmakers to stop using their own dysfunction as an excuse for bad policy.
Alison Acosta Winters is a senior policy fellow at Americans for Prosperity. Michael Lambert, policy analyst and Billy Easley Sr., policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity, contributed to this report.