By Emel Akan
In yet another last-minute attempt to avoid a government shutdown, both the Senate and the House approved a massive $1.7 trillion spending bill, which has frustrated many, including commentators, policy experts, and the general public.
“This bill is further proof that Republicans and Democrats can come together to deliver for the American people,” President Joe Biden said in a statement on Friday before signing the bill into law.
Some, however, argue that the 4,155-page spending package (pdf) could not be in people’s best interest, especially when most of the members don’t know what they’re voting on.
One of the sharpest critics this year came from the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which wrote an op-ed titled “The Ugliest Omnibus Bill Ever” on Dec. 20 after Congressional leaders unveiled the $1.7 trillion spending package.
“This is no way to govern in a democracy, but here we are,” the editorial board wrote, calling the spending bill the “worst in history.”
Every year, lawmakers come under fire for using the omnibus to fund the entire government rather than passing regular spending bills on time. In addition, they are criticized for rushing through policy changes via omnibus, many of which require separate votes or could not pass on their own.
“Major changes in law deserve their own debate and vote. Instead, a handful of powerful legislators wrote this vast bill in a backroom,” the Journal’s editorial board said.
Many lawmakers who supported the bill took victory laps, however, each announcing a different win. Some claimed that the spending deal will lower inflation and generate good-paying jobs. Some praised it for boosting the military, while others supported it for protecting the environment.
The measure includes $858 billion in defense spending, a nearly 10 percent increase over last year that gained Republican backing, and $787 billion in non-defense spending, an increase of nearly 8 percent.
Billionaire Elon Musk, who has recently spoken out on numerous political issues, also commented on the $1.7 trillion omnibus package.
“Railroading through a giant spending bill that almost no one has read is unlikely to be in the best interests of the people,” he wrote on Twitter on Dec. 20.
Musk also created a Twitter poll, asking people if the spending bill should be approved. More than 3.1 million Twitter users voted, with 71.2 percent voting “no” and 28.8 percent voting “yes.”
“The public has spoken,” Musk wrote the next day, mocking Senate leaders Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
A bipartisan group began meeting behind closed doors weeks ago, to draft the huge spending bill that ultimately surpassed last year’s omnibus package by 1,500 pages, totaling 4,155. Nonetheless, that does not include everything.
As Heritage Foundation policy expert David Ditch noted on Twitter, the legislative text is accompanied by an additional 2,670 pages of “explanatory documents,” which contain more than 3,200 earmarks, also known as pork projects.
Ditch cautioned that members were given only a few days to review the material, which is impossible even with staff aid.
Romina Boccia, director of budget and entitlement policy at the Cato Institute agreed, noting that even the most diligent members of Congress and their staff would not be able to read through the large spending package.
“And that’s intentional,” she explained in a blog. “The more time legislators would have to ponder the details of the bill, the more opposition to it would likely arise.”
Some examples of earmarks included $1 million for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, $4 million for the Covina High School pool, and $5 million for the Upper Columbia United Tribes Salmon Reintroduction Project.
Some Republicans and conservative media outlets have also voiced their disapproval of the spending package, claiming that the government is using tax dollars for woke initiatives. Among the projects criticized were $3 million for the American LGBTQ+ Museum in New York City, $3.6 million for a Michelle Obama Trail in Georgia, $477,000 for the Equity Institute in Rhode Island, and $1.2 million for LGBTQIA+ Pride Centers.
‘The Choice Is Clear’
The package gives inflation relief to Americans, as it provides funding for nutrition programs, housing assistance, home energy costs, and college affordability among other things, according to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
“The choice is clear. We can either do our jobs and fund the government, or we can abandon our responsibilities without a real path forward,” he said in a statement on Dec. 19.
The two retiring senators at the top of the Appropriations Committee, Leahy and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), directed millions of dollars to their home states through earmarks. Shelby obtained more than $762 million for Alabama, while Leahy secured $212 million for Vermont.
The spending package also included $47 billion in additional funding to Ukraine, which had broad bipartisan support. However, several House Republicans have criticized the aid, arguing that the funds would be better spent on domestic issues.
“If an additional $47 billion in Ukraine funding isn’t enough for you, the bill also authorizes a ‘Ukrainian Independence Park’ right here in D.C.,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) wrote on Dec. 20 on Twitter.
The word “Ukraine” appeared 96 times in the spending bill. Another popular word was “salmon,” which appeared 48 times in the bill. The spending package made available $65 million “for necessary expenses associated with the restoration of Pacific salmon populations.”
The bill also included $410 million for border security in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and Omen, which has sparked criticism.
“What utter insanity that tens of billions are being spent for border security of other countries, but none for ours!!” Musk wrote on Twitter.