Congress goes on a spending spree

  • 2 May 2017
  • NormanL
Congress goes on a spending spree

Congress has reached an agreement on a spending bill that will keep the federal government operating through September. What does that mean? No government shutdown, for starters. Otherwise, it was an object lesson in how nations go broke. Among the goodies tucked into the legislation...

More taxpayer money for the arts:

Democrats are claiming a huge victory for the arts. They successfully blocked Trump’s request to cut funding to the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. Instead both agencies would see a funding increase of $2 million under this spending bill, bringing each budget to $150 million for fiscal 2017.

Planned Parenthood escapes the axe:

Democrats successfully blocked a GOP request to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funding. The women’s health group will continue to have access to that money through the end of the fiscal year in September. Federal money accounts for about 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s overall budget, with most of that money reimbursing the organization for the treatment of patients on Medicaid.

And so does Sesame Street:

Elmo and Peter Sagal, breathe easy: Congress didn’t make any cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the agency that helps fund programming on NPR and PBS.

There were some victories along the way, the most notable being the IRS:

The nation’s tax enforcement agency gets $11.2 billion — freezing its funding in place. Money has been moved around so that there’s now an additional $290 million to improve customer service programs, including phone call wait times.

One of the most embattled agencies in recent years, the spending bill also includes language barring the use of money to pay bonuses or to rehire former employees unless their conduct and tax compliance is considered. The IRS also cannot use any money to produce “inappropriate videos or conferences” — a response to employee conferences and training videos that earned scrutiny for their cost and content. The IRS cannot audit an organization “based on their ideological beliefs,” but the White House is also barred from ordering the agency to determine an organization’s tax exempt status.

But in total, the budget Congress wants largely ignores the President's suggestions -- including the border wall, and deep cuts at agencies such as the EPA.

It also means the Democrats now feel they have their mojo back:

“I think we had a strategy and it worked,” Schumer said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate were closer to one another than Republicans were to Donald Trump.”

The extra money for domestic programs will now be that much harder to strip out of future budgets, and Trump’s priorities, such as money for a wall along the border with Mexico, could be more difficult to include.

“We can’t pass anything without them,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a top deputy to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said of Democrats recently.

Hill Republicans remain skeptical of, if not openly hostile to, many of Trump’s plans — including the wall and proposals to slash millions from programs such as the National Institutes of Health and foreign aid.

And that is the problem. Government spends far more tax dollars than in collects, and only a handful of members of Congress understand that. For the rest -- Republican, or Democrat -- the game is now as it always has been: spend, spend again, and if that doesn't work, spend some more.