The year-end fiscal drama in Washington DC to which we’ve become accustomed during the Obama years is reaching its 2014 climax. Tuesday night, the House of Representatives released the final text of the omnibus continuing resolution (CR) that would fund the federal government through September 30, 2015.
Nicknamed the “CRomnibus,” the legislation is of course highly controversial, as it rolls into a single massive bill all of the spending in all federal agencies and departments that are normally in 12 separate appropriations bills. In other words, there’s a lot of stuff in there for everyone to hate.
We can judge CRomnibus against our standard of how the U.S. government should work were it restored to the limited, federal system designed by our Founders, and if the president still acted as if he were bound by the limits upon the executive branch—and that’s a useful exercise. By that standard, almost everything in the CRomnibus is offensive.
But we should also judge legislation in the context of where the country actually is, politically, and by what can be realistically accomplished within that context. Hence, some reminders:
- This is still the 113th Congress, in which the Senate is still run by a Democrat majority. In order to move any legislation and to gain any victories, House Republicans must still compromise with Senate Democrats, like it or not.
- Barack Obama is still president, and in order to get a bill signed into law, Congress must put something on his desk he is willing to sign.
- Most Americans are tired of hearing Republican threats to shut down the federal government every few weeks. They think that if the federal government is shut down, America is shut down, and that troubles them. Republican leaders are correct that, rightly or wrongly, the constant threat of government shutdowns hurts their cause, and that the threat should be saved for critical showdowns.
But isn’t CRomnibus one of those critical showdowns? As it turns out, no. For conservatives, there are a surprising number of policy victories in the CRomnibus:
- Overall federal spending remains compliant within the sequester caps, which is a major victory for spending limitation, especially against the limitless spending aspirations of the Obama administration.
- The federal moratorium against new and discriminatory Internet taxes (ITFA) is extended for another year.
- Republican leadership refused in the face of heavy lobbying to include the onerous so-called “Marketplace Fairness Act,” which would have allowed unconstitutional cross-border tax predation by states in search of more revenue.
- Potential taxpayer bailouts of health insurance companies, a design feature of Obamacare, are eliminated.
- The budget for the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), an Obamacare rationing provision, is cut.
- The IRS will be under enhanced scrutiny related to approval of nonprofit applications, and its budget is cut to 2008 levels.
- The Obama administration plan to hand off control of the core Internet functions to ICANN is delayed during the terms of the legislation.
- EPA funding is cut to 2008 levels, continuing a trend since 2010, and the EPA’s dangerous “Waters of the U.S.” initiative is blocked.
- Federal restrictions on campaign contributions are loosened, which is a victory for political speech.
- The Department of Homeland Security, which handles immigration policy, is only funded through February 2015, giving the new Republican 114th Congress an opportunity to address immigration policy early next year.
When judged against the reality of a Democratic Senate and a president with limitless spending aspirations, the real story of the 113th Congress is the surprising number of conservative policy successes, beginning with the sequester and recalling the permanent extension of most of the Bush tax cuts. It’s certainly something for the 114th Congress to build upon.