Omnibus Outrage

March 23, 2018

Congress has passed a giant omnibus spending bill with large increases for every federal budget area, as shown in the table below from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Defense spending is spiked 14 percent, and there are even larger increases in energy/water, state/foreign affairs, and transportation/housing.

The usual story of federal budgeting is that “the president proposes, and Congress disposes.” The president issues his annual budget, and then lawmakers put most of the proposals in the trash unless the president really fights for them.

But under Trump, the pattern is shaping up differently; it is “the president proposes, and the president disposes.” Trump has proposed two relatively frugal budgets on the nondefense side. He included substantial cuts to many departments. But if he signs the omnibus, he will be spinning 180 degrees and throwing his own spending reforms in the trash. He would be signaling to conservative voters: “My reform proposals are bogus. I have no intention of cutting any of those big-government programs you hate such as the public housing, welfare, business subsidies, and the environmental bureaucracy.”

If Trump signs the omnibus, it will put cabinet secretaries in a weird position. Trump’s budget proposes major cuts to departments such as Education and HUD, and secretaries have been going up to Capitol Hill to defend the reforms in front of the appropriations committees. If Trump goes along with the GOP leadership and hikes spending, it would cut his cabinet secretaries off at the knees. Yesterday, the administration was saying Trump will sign it, but this morning Trump is saying he might not because of concerns over the immigration provisions.

The Washington Post describes, for example, how GOP leaders—and Trump if he signs it—are throwing conservative Education Secretary Betsy DeVos under the bus. On Tuesday, DeVos was in front of House appropriators defending the administration’s proposed $3.6 billion cut to the Education Department, saying, “President Trump is committed to reducing the federal footprint in education, and that is reflected in this budget.” But the omnibus goes in the reverse direction and hikes the department’s spending $3.9 billion. In thinking about a possible veto, Trump should be considering a lot more than just the immigration provisions.   

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