The omnibus spending bill is rife with interesting backstories and competing agendas. It’s clear to me that Jim DeMint’s pressure to read the full omnibus, which stands at over 1,900 pages, has three parts: 1) to cement his standing with the Tea Party against “pork” and really spending in general; 2) to run out the clock not on the spending bill but the rest of the Senate’s agenda, especially START, the DREAM Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; 3) to create another Waterloo for President Obama, and put him in the difficult situation of having to sign a bill with a bunch of earmarks in it.
If they force the Democrats into a short-term continuing resolution, giving the next, more conservative Congress an early opportunity to cut spending, that would be gravy. But they already have that hostage-taking opportunity with the debt limit, and anyway a lot of Republicans want to pass this bill. John McCain cited at least 5-6 GOP Senators who would vote for the bill, and there may be more than that. Republicans have lots of their own earmarks at stake in the bill.
Also, the continuing resolution on offer would fund the government until September, so it wouldn’t even be a short-term resolution, in all likelihood. And I’d be surprised if that could pass; there are plenty of Senators with the outlook of Ben Nelson, who would support the omnibus but not the continuing resolution. He says it would “hurt Nebraska jobs,” but it’s more about not getting his pet projects rubber-stamped. This cuts both ways.
Throwing yet another monkey wrench into this is the fact that the ubiquitous second engine for the F-35, which Obama threatened to veto the defense authorization bill over, has made its way into the omnibus, at a cost of $450 million (roughly 6% of all earmarks in the bill). That puts more pressure on the President in his decision-making over whether to sign the measure. So far, they are supportive of the omnibus, so it appears this won’t be a big deal, but if it garners more attention, who knows? If by a miracle a defense authorization bill passes, which Carl Levin and John McCain want, the F-35 would surely not be a part of it, given its controversial nature.
The larger point on these spending measures is made by a Democratic operative, as told to Sam Stein:
“Next year we will be told that we have to make cuts in programs we care a great deal about, that help the people who aren’t celebrating Christmas this year because they can’t afford it… We will be looking at republican proposals for 2008 levels in discretionary spending, which to most of the world means cutting Pell Grants, student loans, food stamps, job training, etc. But we will be paying to protect a $450 million earmark in this year’s omnibus ($3 billion over the next few years) to go to one of the world’s richest corporations – oh yes, the one that it was recently disclosed got all those billions from the Fed in 2008.”
This is why I maintain that the “stimulus” from the tax cut bill is illusory. Ideally you would strip out as much spending like the F-35 from the omnibus as well, since there’s a zero-sum quality to it given the next Congress. But there’s basically no time to do that before Saturday, when government funding runs out. And so we’re likely to build an engine the Pentagon doesn’t want, and cut Head Start next year.