The Omnibus Spending Spree of 2023

By Dr. Harold A. Black

Congress just passed the budget for fiscal year 2023 to the tune of $1.65 trillion. Commentators on the right ranted and railed about how conservatives were betrayed by the 18 Republican senators who voted for the bill. This is because 60 were required for passage in the Senate. Some had urged the senators to vote against the bill, opting instead for a continuing resolution to fund the government until the Republicans are in the majority in the next Congress. Since spending bills originate in the House, the new Congress would have authored a bill with different priorities – or so it is argued. The Republican senators who voted for the bill insisted they did so because it contained significant increases in military spending. This shows that the Democrat leadership is much smarter than the Republican leaders. By tossing the Republicans one bone, the Democrats were able to keep throwing money down the insatiable maw of social welfare boondoggles.

I view the proceedings a bit differently than the outrage coming out of most conservative observers. Much of the criticism was over the 7,500 earmarks in the bill for things such as the $1.2 million for LGBT “pride” centers or $2 million for a black wax museum in Baltimore. However, Republicans also had earmarks in the bill. Lisa Murkowski had 19 earmarks totaling $60 million. She voted for the bill. On the House side even though only 9 Republicans voted for the bill, in a separate session they voted overwhelmingly 158-58 in their caucus to keep earmarks in the spending bills.

Regardless, all the attention on earmarks is Congressional rope-a-dope. Earmarks constitute less than 1 percent of the total spending bill, or $16 billion out of the $1.7 trillion. Therefore, instead of a discussion on budget priorities and fiscal restraint, all the attention is on the earmarks which do not even constitute a rounding error in the budget.

During the budgetary noise coming out of Congress, it was argued that the budget had to be passed in order to avoid a government shutdown. The Republicans know that even though the Democrats are currently in control of the legislative and executive branches the media would conspire to blame the Republicans for a shutdown. It remains to be seen if the public is still that gullible. But the Republicans could have called the Democrats’ bluff and insisted on a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government. This is how the government is often funded when there is a budgetary impasse. That they did not use this tactic demonstrates that the Republicans are no more serious about fiscal responsibility than the Democrats.

Even if they were to agree to vote for an omnibus bill the Republicans could have insisted on funding their priorities such as border security. Yes, there is funding for border security in the bill but it is border security for Ukraine ($45 billion) and for the Middle East ($450 million to Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt). The bill does not provide additional border security on our southern border. It explicitly funds the allocation and transportation of illegals throughout the United States. It explicitly states that funds will not be used to hire additional permanent border patrol agents and prohibits funding for the border wall. That the Republicans would agree to these provisions is an indictment. Their blustering about border security is meaningless hot air. Neither party actually cares about border security. The Democrats want more immigration while the Republicans want to keep the issue alive for political purposes. The Republicans talk a good game but do not want to solve the problem. Rather they just want it as a campaign issue to fool their base into thinking that their legislators are trying in vain to push back the surging horde. The tragedy is that the omnibus spending bill offered the Republicans an opportunity to actually do something about the illegal crisis. They could have withheld support until more funding was allocated to the border patrol and to building the wall. The fact that they did neither speaks volumes about their duplicity.