by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The end of the calendar year is supposed to be a time for merry celebrations, but Congress makes it about consolidated appropriations. Yet again, the American people are being treated to a “Consolidated Appropriations Act” that’s thousands of pages long, crammed with important policies, and largely unread by the people who will vote on it.
It’s called the Consolidated Appropriations Act because there are supposed to be appropriations acts. Congress has a committee system that divides responsibilities for overseeing various parts of the federal government, and they are each supposed to produce their own spending bills in a process meant to take months in preparation for the next fiscal year. In that time, Congress is supposed to debate the spending, offer amendments, and vote on each bill separately.
Instead, Congress waits until arbitrary statutory deadlines, squeezes all the bills together, and announces a vote within days on some massive number of pages authorizing a mind-boggling amount of spending. This year, it’s 4,155 pages and $1.7 trillion. That’s about $409 million per page. It’s full of all the special-interest handouts and wasteful programs that Americans have become accustomed to.
This bill comes after Congress did a similar thing with the National Defense Authorization Act, packaging all sorts of policies into one $858 billion bill and saying members must vote for it or else they hate the troops. And this was all during the lame-duck period when politicians are least accountable to voters. Some of these members already know they are not returning, and voters altered the balance of partisan control in November when they elected a GOP House majority.
Congress doesn’t have to do this bill right now. It could pass a continuing resolution to keep current spending levels and hash this out at the start of next year when the new congress is sworn in. But getting appropriations out of the way now, right before Christmas when nobody really wants to fight, is mutually self-serving for Democrats and Republicans.