In a month full of holiday traditions, Washington is in the midst of its favorite: intentionally waiting to pass major spending legislation until the very end of the year, creating a false panic, and then dumping a 2,000-page, trillion-dollar behemoth onto unsuspecting members and browbeating them into passing it.
Because nothing says “happy holidays” like bilking U.S. taxpayers for trillions of dollars through a bill no one has had time to read.
Congress used to pass individual spending bills, with amendments and multiple floor votes. But that involves a lot of work on behalf of the congressional leadership, so they’ve quietly exchanged that for these now-customary gargantuan spending bills that are written by a handful of staff, behind closed doors, heavily influenced by campaign agendas and lobbyists.
If you don’t believe me, just look at all the “good of the country” priorities that ended up in this year’s $1.4 trillion, 2,313-page congressional gift basket.
Fully Funding the Afghanistan War
I mention this at the outset because it comes on the heels of the Washington Post dropping a blockbuster series of articles, culled from thousands of pages of internal government documents, demonstrating that multiple administrations have willfully misled the public about the state and purpose of the Afghanistan War. They continue even now to send Americans to bleed and die there, at the cost of more than 2,000 American military lives, more than 40,000 Afghan civilian lives, and over $1 trillion. This is the kind of thing that, at one time, would have conjured breathlessly covered congressional hearings, demands for accountability, and an immediate legislative response.
But Congress has instead appeared to collectively yawn and return to its business of impeaching the president, or whatever else it does now. A friend knowledgeable in defense, and who was deployed to Afghanistan as a civilian, recently texted me the following:
We’ve all known this, as bad as it is. No one has cared. Everyone who has followed the war closely knows about all these lies already. … What’s worse is [that] people will barely pay attention even to this and in two days everyone will be talking about something else. And we will do it all again in another country while you and I are still alive.
I found it chilling when he sent it, and even more so now that he’s apparently been proven correct.
Raising the Age to Buy Tobacco to 21
Speaking of endless wars, you’re welcome to go die in the desert at 18, as well as vote for president, have a child, and get sentenced to death by the courts. But after this bill passes, you’ll still have to wait three extra years to buy that pack of smokes.
If you need proof of how these year-end bills get distorted by electioneering and lobbying, here is Exhibit A. Raising the smoking age to 21 is the legislative priority of a single person: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who, conveniently, also happens to be up for reelection.
McConnell introduced the Tobacco 21 legislation back in May. Since then, he’s allied himself with the tobacco companies, which are looking to this singularly dumb piece of legislation as a way to save themselves and their bottom lines from much harsher regulations from the Food and Drug Administration.
So we, as a country, will now be subject to an expansion of the nanny state in order to secure McConnell’s reelection, as well as the profits of tobacco companies, which also happen to be McConnell’s campaign donors.
Before you wonder aloud why McConnell would push legislation that would seemingly hurt his own state’s tobacco farmers, don’t worry. McConnell got them a $10 billion bailout in 2004.
Coal Miners Pension Bailout
Kentucky continues to do well in this bill. In addition to securing passage of his Tobacco 21 legislation (and $410 million for a new Veterans Affairs center in Louisville), McConnell-associated legislation to bail out the United Mine Workers of America is also included in this boondoggle. This will be the first time in history that Congress uses taxpayer dollars to fund the over-extended and under-funded pension plans of private-sector unions and private employers — in this case, to the tune of roughly $6 billion for coal miners.
Rachel Greszler of the Heritage Foundation has written extensively about the moral hazard that comes with using taxpayer money to bail out mismanaged private pension plans. Close to 1,400 multi-employer pension plans have collectively set aside only 43 cents on the dollar to pay their pension obligations. That means approximately $640 billion in unfunded pension promises are out there, just waiting for Congress to step in and save them.
Now that the seal has been broken, it just got a whole lot easier to open those floodgates.