Editorials

The last-minute ‘cromnibus’ federal spending bill invites too much abuse

The U.S. Capitol at dusk.
The U.S. Capitol at dusk. The Associated Press

Last week Congress rushed to pass the awkwardly named “cromnibus.” It was more than just a mashup of a continuing resolution (the “cr,” that is) and omnibus spending bill. Lawmakers — primarily Republicans — inserted inappropriate pet causes, pork and pandering to special interests.

Because lawmakers again waited until the eve of a government shutdown to act, they had no time or inclination to write a thoughtful budget that reflected overarching policy goals. The cromnibus neither helps the middle class nor reduces the deficit. Instead, it allows the country to hobble along for another year.

Not content to do no good, the GOP-controlled House insisted on doing harm by inserting policy and spending priorities where they don’t belong. Many Democrats served as their enablers, supporting the cromnibus with the thin rationale that it could have been worse.

On the spending front, millions of dollars will buy fighter jets that the Pentagon had not even asked for. Someone’s district will score big.

Meanwhile, Congress cut $93 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. WIC helps low-income mothers buy food for their children. It also cut funds for two major Republican bogeymen — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service.

Policy riders in the bill were even worse. The two that received the most attention were related to dollars, just not federal spending of them.

At the request of big banks, Republicans undid part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms enacted after the collapse of the financial industry. It’s an arcane change, but the bottom line is that Washington no longer will forbid big banks from engaging in some of the practices that led to the financial crisis. If things go south again, taxpayers could be on the hook for another round of bailouts.

The financial industry’s generous political contributions no doubt helped it win that concession, for which GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder of Overland Park played a key role. Starting next year, they and other big donors can give even more because Republicans eased campaign finance rules to allow funneling money to political parties. If only those hungry WIC mothers and children had millions they could give to politicians.

Among the other conservative priorities slipped into the bill were overruling Washington, D.C., voters who overwhelmingly endorsed legalizing marijuana; prohibiting regulations on light bulb efficiency; prohibiting bans of lead ammunition used in hunting; making school lunches less healthy; and forbidding naturalists from classifying two sage-grouse species that are dying off as endangered, an anti-environmentalist move that’s music to the ears of Kansas conservatives.

All of those might be reasonable topics for discussion. If so, they should go through the normal, deliberative legislative process that allows ample time for analysis and public comment.

Both Democrats and Republicans have used the budget bill to accomplish policy goals in the past. It was never a particularly noble practice, but the cromnibus’ constrained timeline made the practice particularly odious this time. Congressional leaders revealed it as a fait accompli. The American people and groups affected by it had no real opportunity to support or oppose controversial policies and spending decisions, let alone seek changes.

Exploiting the budget process to bypass public scrutiny and democratic debate only reinforces the overwhelming American consensus that, despite faint appearances of bipartisanship, Congress truly is broken.

  Comments