“NO” on Cromnibus: A Blank Check for Amnesty (H.R. 83)

On Thursday, the House is expected vote on the cromnibus, formally entitled Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (H.R. 83).  The $1.1 trillion, 1,603-page bill would fund most of the federal government through September 30, 2015 while extending funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until February 27, 2015.  Importantly, the bill does nothing to block President Obama’s unilateral, unlawful actions which include granting quasi-legal status, work permits and Social Security numbers to those who are in the country illegally.

When President Obama took action to, as he said “change the law”, the outcry from Congress was widespread.  Republicans and Democrats alike took issue with the President on the process and the policy.  The half-measures and strongly worded statements that followed have been insufficient given the magnitude of the challenge.  As Mitch McConnell, the incoming Senate Majority Leader, observed, “The only tool we have is the power of the purse.”  

Some have suggested the short-term funding for DHS will provide conservatives another opportunity to block President Obama’s actions in early 2015, but that approach is problematic because: 1) it forces House Republicans, who are virtually unanimous in their opposition to the President’s actions, to cast an initial vote to fund that lawless action; 2) it would occur 100 days after the President’s announcement, meaning the program is likely to be up and running; 3) it removes nearly all the pressure on President Obama and his partisan allies to choose between defending their lawless amnesty policies and funding all other areas of government; and 4) leading Republicans have refused to offer up a viable plan to stop the President’s executive amnesty in February.

In addition to funding President Obama’s amnesty with no strategy to stop it in 2015, the cromnibus makes use of $19 billion worth of changes in mandatory programs (CHIMPS) to make it appear as if it is staying below the Ryan-Murray discretionary budget caps. The bill also makes full use of the “disaster” and “emergency spending” loopholes, authorizing $5.7 billion in disaster spending (only $321 million of which to actually be spent this fiscal year), and another $5.4 billion (only $1.5 billion to actually be spent this year) in emergency spending for Ebola response and preparedness.

There are also dozens of examples of funding increases that reflect liberal, big-government priorities: $456 million extra for federal weather forecasting,  $636 million in new money for the Department of Energy, $250 million more than requested for the Environmental Protection Agency, $200 million more for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) than requested, $127 million more for Section 8 housing,  $150 million more for the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), $35 million more for the Commodities Future Trading Commission, $42 million more for the legislative branch (i.e., Congress), $141 million more for mass transit, $500,000 for the Peace Corps and many more.

Furthermore, the spending bill includes a host of policy riders that conservatives find objectionable:

  • Many of the policy riders that conservatives were hoping for were left out as congressional Democrats flexed their muscles one last time.  Riders blocking certain National Science Foundation climate research, prohibiting trade agreements regarding greenhouse gases, certain pro-gun riders and six riders on the aforementioned  CFTC and SEC were all left behind in favor of liberal priorities.
  • Although the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers program was set to expire on December 31, 2014, the bill “fully funds” the program at Obama’s request through 2015.
  • Another provision reauthorizes the Brand USA program through 2020–a government-run public relations corporation ripe with waste, mismanagement and trademark DC cronyism.
  • In spite of countless conservative commitments to battle special interest dominion, this bill reauthorizes the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) until September 30th, 2015, adding $60 million in new funding. OPIC funding benefits a highly concentrated slew of highly profitable industries, like luxury hotel chains and oil and gas projects.
  • Not only is no attempt made to rein in the President’s amnesty actions, but the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is provided $14 million in funding to help with the English language skills training of unaccompanied alien children (UACs), once again devoting resources to easing the transition of undocumented immigrants while doing nothing to enforce the law.
  • $372 million is provided for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, even though last week’s defense authorization included funding for the same program. In typical big government fashion, PILT offers subsidies to counties suffocated by excessive federal dominance of land, rather than pursue an actual solution like returning that land to the states.
  • Roughly $575 million is authorized for International Family Planning/Population Control Activities–a continued affront to pro-family Americans who do not want their tax dollars commingled with such activities.
  • The spending bill includes a separate piece of legislation that authorizes a new Department of Commerce program intended to help manufacturing. As Heritage explains, the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act authorizes “activities that the private sector can and already do perform,” and thus the legislation “is counterproductive and creates more government dependence than innovation and competition.”

While there are some positive elements of the colossal bill, including language that prevents a taxpayer bailout of insurance companies under Obamacare, they cannot overcome the totality of the bill’s aforementioned flaws.  What’s more, many of the policy changes being touted by as conservative victories are half-measures at best and symbolic at worse:

  • The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins notes the bill is “missing a very crucial piece: the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA). That means Californians, who were hoping for some relief from their state’s order that all health care plans cover abortion, will leave 2014 somewhat empty-handed.”
  • The changes to Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) — making white potatoes available — are contingent on a review from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and USDA.
  • The First Lady’s school lunch nutrition standards remain mostly intact, though schools can ask the administration for flexibility if they “can demonstrate a hardship.”

Finally, the cromnibus process more closely resembles something from the Pelosi-run House than the promises embodied in the Republicans’ 2010 Pledge to America.  Representatives are being asked to vote on the massive, 1,603-page bill will little time to read and understand it.  In 2009, then-House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) chastised then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for not posting their half-trillion dollar omnibus online: “If Democratic leaders plan to schedule a vote on the half-trillion dollar omnibus spending bill next week, they should post the legislation online immediately so the American people have adequate time to read the measure and understand what is in it.”

Heritage Action opposes the cromnibus (H.R. 83) and will include it as a key vote on the legislative scorecard.