In three of the last four years, Congress has combined all the outstanding appropriations bills into one large omnibus bill. Each omnibus bill was ridiculed at the time for forcing Congress to vote on a huge sum of money without a chance to split it up and thoroughly examine each line-item. The cost of those budget-busting bills were:
- $515 billion in fiscal year 2008;
- $464 billion in fiscal year 2007; and
- $388 billion in fiscal year 2005.
Even those expensive spending bills are dwarfed by the new “stimulus” bill that will cost (at minimum) $816 billion plus $347 billion in net interest, for a total $1,163 billion over the next decade. At least the expensive omnibus appropriations bills were usually put together over 8 months. This “stimulus” bill will have been publicly unveiled and passed in about a month.
So within a matter of weeks – and with only a few hearings – Congress and the President will have enacted one of the largest permanent redesigns of the federal government since the Great Society. Given the unlikelihood of these provisions being temporary, Washington is set to:
- Essentially federalize the construction and renovation of public schools;
- Begin subsidizing health insurance for unemployed Americans regardless of income;
- Create more than 30 new federal programs;
- Radically expand antipoverty spending and effectively abolish the hugely successful 1996 welfare reform; and
- Create trillions of dollars of new debt, to be dumped into the laps of our children and grandchildren.
Some could justify this legislation if it ended the recession, but few economists on either side of the spectrum believe that will happen. Even the Congressional Budget Office calculates that the “stimulus” will worsen the long-run performance of the economy.
The new political model is simple: Spend a few weeks radically expanding government and debt, and then decades paying the price.
By the way, the omnibus appropriations model is not dead. In the next week, Congress is expected to unveil a $412 billion omnibus bill for 2009. Old habits die hard.