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Virginia Representatives Fall On Both Sides Of $1.7 Trillion Omnibus Budget

A major responsibility of the US Congress is to create and pass a budget for each upcoming fiscal year. The federal fiscal year ends September 30, and the last time Congress had approved a timely budget by October 1 was in the late 1990s, during the second Clinton administration. Since that time, leadership of both houses of Congress has passed back and forth between both parties.

It has become regular practice to pass a budget near the end of the calendar year, just before Christmas, and/or have temporary “Continuing Resolutions” (CRs) as stop-gap funding measures until a formal budget is agreed upon.

Supporters of this end-of-year maneuvering contend that details of the budget are discussed in detail in the later months and weeks of the year, so all members of Congress are aware of what is included. Thus, when it comes time to vote, everyone is aware of what is involved.

However, critics contend this is chicanery whereby documents that are thousands of pages long are made public at the last minute so there is scant time for lawmakers to read the details or for voters to understand what is at stake. Moreover, the timing right before Christmas is seen as proof the lawmakers seek to avoid public scrutiny of their actions.

Last week, Congress claimed the impending winter storm was another reason to rush through passage of the controversial bill, so members could travel home before traffic got snarled by the extreme weather.

Some criticisms of the bill can be found in this Roanoke Star column.

Last week, the so-called “Omnibus Bill” for federal spending until September 2023 was over 4,100 pages long and was made public around 1:30 am Tuesday, December 20.

The 100-member Senate, which is currently split 50-50 with Vice President Harris breaking ties for the Democrats, soon began debating the bill. The Senate approved the Omnibus bill on Thursday, December 22 in a 68-29 vote. All Democrats including Virginia’s Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine voted yes. In a major outrage to many rank-and-file Republicans, 18 GOP senators–led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)–voted yes too.

The House of Representatives voted 225-201 around 2:00 pm on the afternoon of Friday, December 23–the day before Christmas Eve–to approve the budget. Having passed both houses of Congress, the spending bill went to President Biden’s desk where he signed it into law.

The three Congressmen representing Central and Western Virginia in the House of Representatives–Republicans Morgan Griffith (VA9), Ben Cline (VA6), and Bob Good (VA5)–all voted no. The nine GOP representatives who voted yes are mostly not returning to Congress in January. They are Reps. John Katko (R-NY), Chris Jacobs (R-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Fred Upton (R-MI), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Steve Womack (R-AR), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), and Liz Cheney (R-WY).

Rep. Cline, who represents the 6th District that runs from the Roanoke Valley along the Shenandoah Valley to Winchester, issued this statement on his website explaining his opposition:

“Democrats’ bloated omnibus spending spree represents what’s wrong with Washington: a 4,000+ page, over $1.7 trillion government funding deal we are forced to vote on at the last minute. This makes it impossible to know the total cost that will fall on the backs of American taxpayers – and worsens inflation that’s devastating working families. Americans have to live within their means, while Congress spends and spends with money we don’t have. It’s pure Washington dysfunction in action, and it must be stopped. That’s why I voted against this bill – because the American people who elected us deserve a Congress that spends responsibly, not more than we can afford.”

Rep. Griffith, a native of Salem who represents the 9th District in Congress that covers most of Southwest Virginia, issued this statement explaining his opposition:

“I voted no on the Omnibus because of its cost, size, and the precedent it established. This 4,100 plus page legislation came with a price tag of $1.7 trillion and its final text was released in the wee hours of Friday, December 23 with the vote occurring before 2pm. Furthermore, never in our history has the House passed a comprehensive long-term spending bill after an election that resulted in a switch of party control. A straight Continuing Resolution into the new year would have been my preferred legislative route, both ensuring the government stays open and allowing the newly elected majority party to govern.”

The bill, at $1.7 trillion, represents increased spending on both military and domestic programs. This increased spending comes on the heels of unprecedented government spending related to Covid relief and “Build Back Better” initiatives. Members of both parties who voted yes were able to deliver taxpayer-funded “pork” to their home states. A few of the more controversial items in last week’s omnibus bill include funding for:

  • the Nancy Pelosi Federal Building in San Francisco,
  • the Michelle Obama Hiking Trail in Atlanta ($3.6 million),
  • 87,000 new IRS agents,
  • a museum in New York City highlighting homosexuality and transgenderism ($3 million),
  • border protection in Ukraine and some other countries, but not for our Southern border which is the site of a huge humanitarian crisis involving human trafficking, drug smuggling, and possible infiltration by terrorists,
  • “reproductive health” in areas where “population growth threatens biodiversity,” which opponents see as a euphemism for taxpayer-funded abortions,
  • $375 million for new FBI headquarters, despite recently-released Twitter files indicating the FBI squelched the Hunter Biden laptop story for 10 months, illegally meddled in both the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections, and allegedly violated the 1st Amendment Freedom of Speech rights by colluding with Big Tech to censor Americans,
  • a bigger Department of Justice (DOJ) budget despite President Biden’s DOJ branding some concerned parents speaking at school board meetings as “domestic terrorists,” etc.

As seen at the top left of the US Debt Clock, the US’s National Debt is currently over $31 trillion, with debt per citizen over $94,000. Therefore, the new $1.7 Omnibus Bill will add to that. Plus, since the textbook definition of inflation is “too many dollars chasing too few goods,” the extra spending will likely drive up inflation more, and to fight inflation, the Federal Reserve will probably keep driving up interest rates, which makes it more expensive to borrow money to buy a house, launch a business, etc.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a professional ophthalmologist, has claimed our ballooning national debt is the biggest national security threat facing our nation.

The Omnibus Bill is particularly noxious to many here in Central and Southwest Virginia. Despite the much-vaunted “Red Wave” not materializing nationwide last November, there were a number of smaller “red waves” in parts of the country, such as in Florida, southern New York State, and Western Virginia. For example, 6th District Congressman Ben Cline defeated his Democrat challenger by about a 2 to 1 margin, while 9th District Representative Morgan Griffith bested his opponent 3 to 1. Such large margins for GOP Congressmen indicated many in our region sought to place checks on the Biden administration and put more oversight in place.

In contrast, Senators Warner and Kaine voting for the Omnibus send the message to continue the budget, priorities, and direction of the Biden administration.

The GOP will take over leadership in the House of Representatives next week. If GOP senators had stopped the Omnibus and passed only a CR funding the government for a few weeks, the Republicans could have had more leverage to implement oversight of the Biden administration and made budgetary changes. However, since 18 GOP senators voted with the Democrats to pass the Omnibus, that potential leverage is now gone until next fall.

In addition to voting no on the Omnibus, 5th District Congressman Bob Good took the additional step last week of joining 29 other House Republicans by signing a letter by Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX). Seeking to urge GOP senators to oppose the Omnibus, the signatories pledged to do everything in their power to “thwart even the smallest legislative and policy efforts” those GOP senators propose, once the GOP takes House leadership in January.

Reps. Cline, Griffith, and Good will face re-election to another two-year term in 2024, and Sen. Kaine will face re-election that year too. Sen. Warner will face re-election in 2026.

–Scott Dreyer

Note: This story was updated 12-31-22.

 

 

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