“The $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill effectively funds 9 of the last 12 months of the Obama agenda at higher spending levels in exchange for very little.”
That was Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning’s take on the now-released omnibus spending bill for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016 and tax extenders package.
The legislation, said Manning, “by virtue of not defunding it, funds for the implementation of Obamacare, executive amnesty for illegal immigrants with U.S.-born children, Planned Parenthood, the resettlement of refugees from the war in Syria and Iraq, the EPA’s war on coal and so forth.”
“They even managed to inexcusably reinstate the wind turbine tax credit through 2020 that had previously expired this year,” Manning added.
The bill would also bust the sequestration spending caps set forth by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which at one time had been seen as a small victory by Republicans in the debt ceiling standoff that year.
Even still, said Manning, these failures “could have been somewhat offset by achieving smaller policy victories to limit the size and scope of government, but frankly these are very few and far between” in the bill.
So, what did Republicans get in return?
They managed to get a lifting of the 40-year old ban on exporting crude oil, although they may have expended much or most of their leverage in the process to get it done.
The bill defunds any Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations restricting the political activity of 501(c)4 organizations. In 2013, on the heels of the agency targeting the tea party and other 501(c)4 organizations, the agency issued such a regulation before pulling it back. This defund should make sure it does not happen for the next nine months.
The omnibus also defunds any Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations that would require additional disclosure by companies that make political contributions to candidates and candidate committees, contributions to tax exempt organizations, or dues paid to trade associations, and also independent advocacy expenditures made by those companies during election years.
The bill defunds lobbying by executive branch departments and agencies from lobbying Congress, that is, using any funds “directly or indirectly, to influence congressional action on any legislation or appropriation matters pending before Congress.”
The bill in Section 539(a) also extends for the next nine months a defund that would block the Obama administration from relinquishing oversight of the Internet domain name system. It does so by prohibiting the use of funds to relinquish a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) governing the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions that would otherwise leave ICANN as the world’s sole resolver of Internet domain names and IP addresses.
The Internet giveaway raises global censorship concerns, because the Obama administration plan would in effect cede any First Amendment protections currently afforded by the government contract to the free and open Internet. Without those protections, there will be no recourse in federal courts should the IANA functions ever be used by ICANN as the world’s Internet monopoly to censor websites, or if these functions are ever captured by a foreign power.
With the defund, this cannot happen for the next nine months. One cause for concern, however, is in Section 539(b) of the omnibus that states, “Notwithstanding any other law, subsection (a) of this section shall not apply in fiscal year 2017.”
This could make defunding the Internet giveaway next fiscal year slightly harder. Why? Because it means barring a specific provision inserted into the next funding bill overriding subsection (b), the Internet could most certainly be transferred next year after Sept. 30, the beginning of fiscal year 2017 — particularly if all Congress is planning on doing is another three- or six-month continuing resolution past the presidential elections.
This is something Americans for Limited Government, which has been at the forefront of defunding the Internet transition, will be watching close over the next nine months to prevent Obama from running out the clock on the free and open Internet.
There are some other defunds in the bill. For example, barring funds from implementing the incandescent light bulb ban. Or blocking abortions from being performed at federal prisons — although the Director of the Bureau of Prisons would still be obligated to “provide escort services necessary for a female to receive such service outside the federal facility.”
Others seem somewhat silly, for example, blocking the use of funds to provide cable television services at federal prisons, although, to be fair, those types of funding prohibitions have been in place for years.
All told, the policy riders achieved are not nothing, but they are also not enough. They certainly deserve to be a part of wider defunding efforts in the future, but they are also considerably less than Americans for Limited Government was hoping could be achieved this year with Republican House and Senate majorities.
In other words, despite the hard work appropriators and other members undoubtedly put into the spending bill, it gives away too much in return for far too little. As Americans for Limited Government’s Manning noted, “there simply is very little in here for conservative members of Congress to hang their hats on, and Americans for Limited Government strongly urges a no vote.”
We’d rather go back to the drawing board and keep fighting for more funding prohibitions, for example, to stop the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regulation imposing racial and income guidelines on local zoning decisions for counties and cities that accept any part of $3 billion of federal community development block grants.
At the same time, we are aware of the inertia that develops once negotiations have ended and the options House and Senate leaders will give members are either passing what’s on the table or shutting down the government.
Conservative members of Congress will have to decide whether there is enough in the omnibus to get them to a yes vote, but somehow we doubt for many there is. The political costs of funding the last year of Obama’s agenda may be far too high headed into a volatile election year where primary challenges are the last thing an incumbent member wants to hear about.
This is a guest post by Robert Romano senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.