Federal budget experts and lawmakers were scrambling to digest the giant, $1.7 trillion spending bill lawmakers released Tuesday morning, but early assessments confirm that the bill is very large and very expensive, though not quite as expensive as some feared.
The bill clocks in at 4,155 pages, which will likely draw arguments throughout the week that it is too large to read and understand in the few days Congress has to pass it before some funding for the government runs out on Friday.
“This budget is too late and too big,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). “Our politicians need to start taking budgeting more seriously.”
“This omnibus spending bill is a prime example of Washington at its absolute worst,” added Brandon Arnold, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU). “It was drafted behind closed doors and places the needs of special interests ahead of everyday Americans.”
The bill is the result of negotiations between Senate Republicans and House and Senate Democrats, as House GOP leaders rejected the idea of working on a yearlong spending bill just days before they are set to take control of the House. But the bill can pass and become law if 10 Republican senators support it and Democrats stay united in the House, which is expected.
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Senate Republicans said they did the best they could to boost defense spending and minimize the push from Democrats to boost non-defense spending.
“Since day one, I have insisted on increasing defense funding well above the president’s request without similar increases in wasteful liberal non-defense spending,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said he was “pleased” that the bill boosts defense spending by 10% and non-defense spending by just 5.5%, which he said cuts the Biden administration’s “wasteful non-defense budget request increase by more than half.”
But complaints from other Republicans and spending hawks indicate many conservatives aren’t content with the expensive bill simply because it boosts defense spending.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is poised to become the next house speakersaid the deal allows Democrats to sidestep additional funding for border security and energy measures that House Republicans will start to push for in January.
“We’ll take care of the military but also make sure our border is secure, make sure we have the ability to have energy in America, all of the above,” McCarthy said on FOX Business this week. “We’ll go after making a parent bill of rights, and, yes, we’ll hold the administration accountable. Why would we do this in a weakened state?”
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McCarthy added in a tweet on Tuesday, “When I’m Speaker, their bills will be dead on arrival in the House if this nearly $2T monstrosity is allowed to move forward over our objections and the will of the American people.”
Others argued that the all-around spending increase would only create more inflationary pressures. The bill increases defense spending to $858 billion, and adds another $772.5 billion in non-defense discretionary spending, which includes a 22% increase for Department of Veterans Affairs funding.
It includes $44.9 billion for Ukraine-related aid, and $40.6 billion for domestic natural disaster aid, items the Biden administration requested in the last few weeks.
Arnold from NTU said those are the kinds of increases that are “driving inflation and making it tough for American families to afford basic needs like food and housing.”
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“We believe the discretionary spending boost in the package is too high,” added MacGuineas of CRFB. “While much of it is to keep pace with inflation, a lower number would help bring inflation down – a stated goal of almost all policymakers, and one which their actions keep contradicting.”
MacGuineas’s group did note that the spending bill could have been even worse when it comes to borrowing more money. Lawmakers were considering extending certain tax breaks that would have meant more borrowing, and those will now have to be worked out next year.
Language was included to avoid a cut to Medicare reimbursement rates, which otherwise might have forced medical offices to close and left seniors with fewer health care options. MacGuineas said the bill seems to “responsibly phase out and offset health care spending increases. For that we can be thankful.”
Other costs are less responsibly handled. For example, the bill includes additional tax incentives for people to invest in their retirement account. While the bill tries to “pay for” that expense, Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at CRFB, said those pay-fors are “mostly garbage” as they only assess early tax receipts while ignoring tax receipt losses decades from now.
While MacGuineas and Goldwein said the bill is less of a “Christmas tree” bill than they feared, there are plenty of presents for lawmakers.
Arnold of NTU noted the legislation names the Lake Champlain water basin program after retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and names an FBI building in Alabama after Sen. Shelby. It also throws money around on various pet projects, such as $50 million to research North Atlantic right whales and $250 million to rice farmers.
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“Once government funding is out of the way, policymakers should turn toward getting our finances under control by helping the Fed tame inflation, securing the nation’s trust funds, and putting the debt on a sustainable downward path,” MaGuineas concluded. “That’s the best gift they could give Americans this holiday season.”
“This bill is an absolute stinker,” Arnold said. “Congress should throw all 4,000-plus pages in the dumpster, pass a short-term funding extension into early next year, and head home for the holidays.”