‘Never Again’? Omnibus Bill Is a Product of the Swamp

Thinking about the $1.3 trillion—that’s “trillion” with a “t” for “terrifying”—omnibus spending bill that President Trump signed on Friday, I wonder who is most unhappy about that incontinent, 2,232-page monument to congressional irresponsibility. (A small token of its irresponsibility—and its contempt for the public—was that the bill had to be signed a mere 17 hours after being passed by the Senate. “Otherwise”—cue the scary voice and Halloween music—“the government will shut down!” Is that a threat or a promise?)

There have been all sorts of lists of winners and losers. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “We Democrats are really happy” with the bill, which will stuff enough cash into the bloated congressional gizzard to keep the government wheezing along through September. Many, nay most, on the other side of the D.C. gastrointestinal tract are not happy. “With Omnibus Signing,” as one representative headline put it, “Trump Formally Surrenders To The Swamp.”

I had myself, like other fiscally responsible Americans, hoped that President Trump would veto that bill, as he suggested he might as late as Friday morning. Still, it is well to keep in mind a fundamental truth that some canny tweeter put with pithy conciseness: “Regardless of how you feel about the #omnibus, it’s still a good day when you wake up and realize Hillary Clinton is not our president.”

True, too true. And remember, politics in democratic countries always involves compromise. I was not convinced that the president got enough of what he wanted—a measly $1.6 billion “down payment” for the border wall, for example (he wanted $25 billion) in exchange for the Candyland giveaways to the Dems. But let’s leave the particular budget items to one side. The bill was simply too big. I think the government should spend less money, especially on things unrelated to national security. That Republicans, reputedly the party of fiscal sanity, occupy the White House, control both houses of Congress (as well as a majority of state legislatures and governorships) and that this is is the best they can do suggests how difficult public thriftiness is.

Rot Runs Deep
Or perhaps it merely suggests how wide and deep the D.C. swamp is, and how corrupt most politicians from both parties really are. It is amazing how quickly the power and perquisites of public office transform ordinary men and women into inveterate swamp dwellers, concerned overwhelmingly with maintaining and enhancing their status, not the commonweal.

Did I mention that Congress gave itself a raise of $60 million in the bill? Spending other people’s money is easy once you get the hang of it. One thing Congress never seems to get around to considering seriously is term limits. Can you blame them? Power. Riches. Influence. Social position. All for life if they’re lucky. Who would wish to turn off that spigot—especially when there are millions upon millions of saps (that would be us taxpayers) willing to pay for it all? Nope, most lawmakers, once they get to the promised land of the Capitol, are not going budge if they can help it.

But I digress. I ask again: Who is most unhappy about the passage of the omnibus spending bill?

It may seem ironic, but I think it may be President Trump. He signaled his dissatisfaction with the bill early on and, as I say, talked about vetoing it. “It’s not right,” he said, “and it’s very bad for our country.” When push came to shove, however, he signed it only, he said, because of the robust provisions it made for military spending: pay increases for those who defend us as well as money for new military hardware.

Noting correctly that the president’s “highest duty is to keep America safe,” Trump said he signed the bill as a matter of “national security.” The U.S. military had suffered grievously under Barack Obama. The world is an increasingly dangerous place and yet our military readiness and capability have been sharply eroded. The military provisions of the omnibus bill will go a long way towards addressing that deferred maintenance.

Far-Fetched Remedies
Nevertheless, he said in announcing his signing of the bill, he would “
never sign a bill like this again.” Like many of his predecessors, President Trump asked for an end to the filibuster. He also asked for a line-item veto so the president was not presented with an all-or-nothing choice.

The problem, of course, is that ending the filibuster would remove not only a major opportunity for partisan grandstanding but also an important tool of legislative blackmail. And providing the president with a line-item veto would introduce an element of transparency into the legislative process that would be deeply incompatible with the imperative to feather one’s nest and grease the wheels of politics without the irritating incursion of public scrutiny and accountability. So: I doubt it will ever happen.

This dog’s breakfast of a spending bill illustrates a fundamental fact about the metabolism of modern American politics. Republicans, when they’re in charge, allow Democrats to indulge in massive domestic spending in exchange for money for the military. Democrats, when they’re in charge, deny Republicans money for military spending in exchange for massive domestic spending and tax increases. You see how it works. It’s analogous to the one-way ratchet the Democrats employ on so-called social issues and judicial decisions. As far as is humanly possible, the trend goes in one direction only: towards more and more “progressive”—and expensive—positions.

It will be interesting to see whether Donald Trump will be able to keep his promise not to sign another such example of fiscal incontinence. It will be interesting, too, to see how his battle against the swamp proceeds. Will he be able to maintain—and, perhaps, even improve on—the tax cuts he won at the end of last year? Will he get his wall? Will he stanch the flow of illegal immigration and do something about the thousands upon thousands of alien miscreants who are here now, preying on our communities? Will he be able to keep up the pace of prosperity-enhancing deregulation? Will his economic policies spark the sustained 3-4 percent growth we need? Will he, finally, manage to evade the real collusion story of our times: the collusion between our intelligence and law-enforcement institutions, on the one hand, and the Clinton campaign and deep state operatives from the Obama Administration, on the other, to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency?

The point is, last week’s passage of the omnibus spending catastrophe did not take place in a vacuum. It is part of the elaborate choreography of the swamp. There are already hints that President Trump may be cannier about swamp draining and fiscal responsibility than is widely appreciated. In any case, this spending bill cannot be understood in isolation from the whole package of D.C. initiatives. There are thousands upon thousands of “civil servants” whose daily suspiration adds, drop by drop, to the swamp. Most of them detest Donald Trump. Most of them cannot be fired. That is the hand the president was dealt. Ronald Reagan faced something similar. He did not get everything he wanted, not by a long shot. But he got some critical things accomplished in his eight years. Were I betting man, I’d wager that Donald Trump has some important, some world-changing victories to look forward to in the nearly seven years he has left as president.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the press about the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress early Friday, with Vice President Mike Pence (2nd-L), Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, (L), and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (R) in the Diplomatic Room of the White House on March 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. After threatening to veto the legislation earlier today, President Trump announced he had signed the bill, avoiding a government shutdown. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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55 responses to “‘Never Again’? Omnibus Bill Is a Product of the Swamp

  • The bill Trump just allowed to become law is pure crap. Pure unadulterated crap. Including the military part.

    • “But… But we got 60 billion more for the military!”

      You got 60 billion worth of overpriced cr*p, like 120 million dollar a piece F35s, that’s what you got.

      If it was up to me, they could cut the Pentagon budget, and we’d be just as safe, as long as we pulled our troops home from unwinnable foreign adventures, and controlled spending better.

  • “There are already hints that President Trump may be cannier about swamp draining and fiscal responsibility than is widely appreciated”

    LOL…no, no there is not.

  • Every single one of the Representatives and Senators who voted for this budget has declared a level of personal corruption unparalleled in American history. Not one of them knows what’s in it; nobody since Alexander Hamilton has ever understood a national government budget, but this one is so far beyond the irresponsibility of the Obamacare law as to make Pelosi’s remark about passing it to find out what’s in it into a soothing grandmotherly whisper while she is rubbing your back at bedtime.

    • The point people keep missing is that there sure as hell were people who knew what was in that bill…the people who wrote it, Ryan and McConnell. And from the glee displayed by Schumber and Pelosi, they were in on the scam. Congress has been hijacked by the leadership…the true Uniparty.

      I haven’t heard one person call for replacing the leadership over this. Not Brat, or Jordan, or any of the big mouths who came out against this bill. Which tells me, they are in on the scam.

      • Yeah, you can bet that many of the GOP who voted against this were allowed to by the leadership, to help them in the 2018 elections, but would have voted for it if the leadership told them it was required. I don’t trust very many of them anymore.

    • Agree, but Trump is complicit as well. He signed it. I hear his reasons for it, but it was still a horrible betrayal of all those who sent him there. Yes, he’s done considerable good. Yes, there is only so much he can do without the support of Congress. Still, he should have put up a fight. I’m personally not letting him off on this one.

      • Prior to signing the Omnibus bill, the President formally declared a state of emergency in a letter to congress, which essentially gives him control of the spending. He has no intention of spending 1+ trillion $$$ in six months.

        Trump hasn’t betrayed anyone!!!

      • I hope you’re right. He may legally be able to spend some of that on border security.

    • I don’t now if it’s an ‘unparalleled’ level of corruption or not, but it is really bad.

  • Trump needs the money for the coming roundup and military trials of Obama administration officials.

    • HOW DOES A ROUND UP AND MILITARY TRIALS COST 60 BILLION DOLLARS?!?

      Platinum courthouse? A jail build of gold and diamonds?!?

      • It goes to Obama. There are contingencies for civil unrest.

  • If Trump truly wants to drain the swamp, he can start with the WH’ legislative affairs liaison Mark Short. This former lobbyist & consultant for Koch Industries is not willing nor capable of pushing the POTUS’ agenda. Why he’s still employed @ Trump’s WH is a mystery.

  • Trump proved that the republican-democrat axis still runs US. More for them, less for US. The usual.

  • ‘It will be interesting, too, to see how his battle against the swamp proceeds.’

    It may not be your battle Kimball but it sure is ours.

  • “in the nearly seven years he has left as president.”

    After signing that abortion, (A half billion for Planned Parenthood? Really?) I seriously doubt he’s getting a second term.

    Compromise only gets easier with repetition. If he was really going to never again sign such a bill, he needed to not sign it in the first place.

      • That’s easy: Not going to vote.

        Put the fear of God in GOP, by showing them what happens when they compromise too much.

        If every GOP voter does that, they won’t be so quick to compromise next time.

      • That’s just plain stupid. 45% of Americans already don’t vote. And you are falling right in line with what the Left wants you to do. Good going!

  • I always ask, why can’t every part of the budget be passed separately? What are they doing with their time? Stop doing the unnecessary things and stick to the actual requirements. Pass a separate budget for each department. Isn’t that the way it used to be or did I dream that, which is possible.

    • Why? Passing each part of the bill separately would make corruption and graft more difficult to orchestrate.
      I’m sorry to sound so cynical, but that is the truth of the matter at the end of the day. Washington is referred to as a ‘swamp’ for a reason.

      • I think my reply didn’t take so shorter version: make them sign specifics like Declaration of Independence. Maybe they could take pride in what they do under a little pressure.

    • That’s how it is supposed to work. In the old days when I was in Government, there were 13 Appropriation Bills to fund Government Operations. Each Bill was debated/amended in committee (at least one Authorizing and one Appropriations), then taken to the floor of each chamber for a vote. And all of this happened BEFORE the fiscal year started (when I started in Government, the Fiscal year began on 1 July – then they moved it to 1 October in order to give Congress more time for “deliberation”)…now these guys are so incompetent at their jobs that they cant get anything done correctly. Trump has a huge job to try to fix a system that has been broken by 535 lazy, corrupt, and stupid people.

      • I guess in the old system there weren’t many cable news shows to go on

  • Trump squandered a huge opportunity here. It was a big mistake to sigh this bill. He should have decisively vetoed it and called out congressmen and senators by name to defend their support of the reckless and wasteful spending. There was no reform here at all – on the contrary, it made matters even worse,

    Never again? Ha!
    Trump only emboldened big spenders to do it again. It was an epic fail on Trump’s part. There’s no sugar-coating it.

  • I doubt it. He got rolled and Trump fantasy budget tinkering might be a premise for a reality TV show, but isn’t going to happen.

  • 1. How do we fix Congress?
    2. How do we fix the Courts?
    3. How do we fix the Executive Branch?
    4. How do we fix the voters? Last in the list but first in importance.

    One guy won’t get it done without help, especially a guy shaky on principles.

    Is better than the Commies all we can be?

    • Apparently, right now that’s it. My main concern is keeping more far left justices off SCOTUS. But I fear our only hope is to have some Phoenix blood in our heritage.

  • trump did not lead.
    trump did not call leadership into the oval office and tell them what his priorities were.
    trump did not call leadership into the oval office and tell them what his limits and boundaries were.
    trump did not call out the process as the bill evolved, rather he avoided pressuring congress to shape the bill.

    trump continued to spend 3 days/week outside DC playing golf.

    Then he yelled, complained and whined.

    That is what trump did.

    So blame congress and the “swamp.”

    Smart.

    • BS. Trump went out weeks ago and told the leadership what he wanted, and what he could compromise on.

      They chose to ignore it. THAT is a GOP problem, not a Trump problem.

      The fact that he didn’t veto it however, is a problem with Trump.

    • NPR is incorrect. As a percentage of GDP military spending has been low by historical standards for quite some time. In fact the U.S. is is a follower, not a leader, in terms of military spending as a percentage of GDP. You are disseminating disinformation.

      • If you follow the NPR link, they make the GDP point too. Both things are true. Which is more meaningful?

        I’m not sure the GDP measure is the best. An aircraft carrier presumably costs X dollars to build, regardless of your economy’s overall productivity. Seems like real- and inflation-adjusted dollars are a fine way to measure spending.

        A candy bar costs a dollar regardless of whether you make $15,000 or $150,000, after all.

      • Percentage of GDP is more meaningful and a truer estimate of military spending and it is lower not higher.

        Government spending in and of itself is an inefficient handler of tax payer money and is loaded with inefficiencies.

        Your candy bar example makes little sense in your argument. A toilet seat is a relatively inexpensive item ($25-30) until a government department needs to spend it’s allocated money in order to remain the same size or grow than the toilet seats becomes a $1000 item. Government is not a great steward of tax payer money.

      • “A toilet seat is a relatively inexpensive item ($25-30) until a government department needs to spend it’s allocated money in order to remain the same size or grow than the toilet seats becomes a $1000 item.”

        Undoubtedly. That doesn’t tell me anything about this debate. The government was buying aircraft carriers 50 years ago, and now. There might be some price variables in the construction cost, but the government part of things is mostly baked in.

        You assert GDP is a better measure. You still haven’t explained why. Paying for 10,000 soldiers should cost roughly the same, no matter the size of GDP. So should the carriers.

        I doubt we’ll come to agreement on this. I’ll let you have the last word.

      • Evidently you forgot about inflation, the rising cost of labor and materials and technology advancement that changes how and with what materials carriers are built today. That candy bar you mention used to be twice the size and cost a nickel.

      • That’s why the initial comparison was in inflation-adjusted dollars.

      • Seems like, for the question NPR asked, “how much does the US spend on it’s military,” inflation-adjusted dollars are what you want. However, the statement of how much we spend lacks context. The underlying question for most people will be how much of a burden is that on the taxpayer, or what else we have to give up to spend that much on military. Adjusting dollars spent by GDP is a decent way to get at that question, but perhaps an even better way would be inflation-adjusted dollars spent per taxpayer. More generally, I see economists evaluate the national debt according to percent of GDP, which seems like the error I’d make in evaluating my mortgage payment according to the summed household incomes of my whole neighborhood. Though, if you let Congress have their way, it seems they would be quite happy to close the gap between government budget and total GDP.

  • If the GOPe does not give President Trump what he wants this fall heading in to the mid-term elections they are toast for sure.

    On the other hand, if they fully fund the wall Democrats could become burnt toast. End the filibuster, fund & build the wall!!

  • POTUS Trump’s leadership in this matter is impressive. He was willing to sacrifice his public image to do what needed to be done. Signing this travesty was an act of courage, not cowardice.

    ‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena….’

    • Oh, the dishonesty required to believe that!! You need to pray for your soul my friend!

      • How un-Christian of you. Leave my soul out of this discussion and you can have a discussion. As for ‘dishonesty’, you are incorrect. That you disagree with my statement does not mean that it was not proffered in good faith. As someone once said, ‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.’

    • “Do what needed to be done”

      In what upside down reality, do we need yet ANOTHER overpriced carrier? Did the ones we have sink?

      Why do we need 120 million dollar F35s, when other countries can build better planes for less than half that price?

      • Someday, military ‘pork’ will go the way of all grass, but in thousands of years, such has not been the case. Someday, maybe, some military somewhere will be efficient with their nation’s investment. Such is not the case, here and now. If we want a strong military, it’s going to cost…extra. I don’t like it, but that’s how it is.

  • PULLease! Trump can’t sign away the future of our children and grandchildren, and still expect the GOP to win in the midterm!! I will vote AGAINST every Republican in my district BECAUSE of this “democrat” (sorry dems it really wasn’t your bill) style spending bill!!! Trump is only in it for what his family can steal, our values mean NOTHING to him!!!!

  • That “will never sign a bill like that again” is hard to take seriously, considering he said the exact same thing last year about another disastrous budget.

    The thing is, we DIDNT elect Trump to roll over for congress every time there is a budget.

    We DIDNT elect him to keep postponing the wall until the clock runs out.

    The Trump we voted for, would have vetoed that bill, and would have kept the veto on, until the funding for the wall was in place.

  • Don’t be alarmed.

    The Bill is a 6 months stop-gap measure and all that money will certainly not get spent.

    Trump may have already taken control of the spending by formally declaring a State of Emergency because of the illegal invasion of drugs/ gangs and the 64K drug deaths this past year.

    https://twitter.com/5Strat/status/978396985731334144

    Trump is committed to the wall, to stopping drugs/gangs/opioid epidemic and restoring the state of our military readiness. This requires immediate action. They currently have to go to museums and airplane graveyards to find parts for our planes. Pilots are being lost because of bad equipment.

    Trump has no intention of spending all that pork $$$ allocated for leftist causes/agendas.

    He’s very concerned about saving and stretching, not squandering taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.

    Trump is a builder, not a destroyer. He has been called the reverse tornado – building up and restoring everything in his path.

    Unlike Obama, whose building projects in Chicago are today in ruins due to shoddy workmanship, cronyism and corruption, Trump’s work is well built.

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