This past week Congress passed and the President signed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. The 2,232-page bill avoids a government shutdown that would have otherwise happened this past weekend and will keep the government open till at least September.
The omnibus bill, H.R. 1625, did not pass without great controversy however. Many on both the left and right derided how the bill increased federal spending and will add over a trillion dollars to the federal debt through running its course.
The most notable provisions from the bill were an increase in military spending, $1.5 billion for President Trump’s border wall, and funding to better prevent gun violence through fixes to background checks and increased training.
Despite January’s government shutdown being caused over brinkmanship negotiation positions over creating a permanent solution to DACA, the bill did not address a solution for recipients in anyway. Both Republicans and Democrats took to blaming each other over the lack of a solution, as legislative circling has kept this issue from being properly addressed.
In the Senate, 25 Republicans and 40 Democrats voted for the bill compared to 23 Republicans and 9 Democrats that voted against it. In the House, 145 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted for the bill compared to 90 Republicans and 77 Democrats against.
In an ironic way, the omnibus was a bipartisan bill in a hyperpolarized Washington. The lead up to the eventual package was marred by immense fighting over every issue from sanctuary cities to Planned Parenthood, from full funding for the border wall to a federal support of the “Gateway” commuter rail tunnel being built to connect New York and New Jersey.
Procedural concerns were also vast, as many complained of the short timeline between the bill’s release and its vote, as well as its deficit impact.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who personally created a one-night government shutdown back in early February, took to Twitter and deridingly said “Victory for conservatives today is that all of America now knows what a budget-busting bomb this bill is. Hopefully, today’s battle will embolden conservatives to descend on Congress and demand Constitutional government."
Senator Paul’s sentiments were shared by many Republicans who voted against the bill, as well as grassroots activists, citing its fiscal irresponsibility and lack of any contribution towards reducing our country’s spending deficit let alone overall debt.
The deficit question always comes up every so often in debates over spending on the Hill but rarely has it ever been enacted on in a serious way. There are a multitude of reasons for this, beginning with the fact that no individual members of Congress have a clear incentive to look after the “forest.” Rather, members of Congress all have their various issue priorities and objectives they hope to get into the bill and for which they can claim success for.
Secondly is the still low economic impact of the debt as of the moment, even if the future is worrisome if we stay our current course. Currently the national debt stands at roughly $21.05 trillion or 105% of GDP. We still are a far ways away from Japan’s infamous and economy-crushing national debt, which stands at 238% gross of GDP.
Nonetheless, according to the CIA Factbook our country remains in the top twenty nations worldwide consistently for the level of our public debt compared to our economic production. In comparison, the gross debt-to-GDP ratio of the United Kingdom is 84.9%, Germany is 81.9%, Brazil is 71.2%, China is 65.7%, India is 41.1%, and Russia is 10.9%.
It is also worth noting that our national debt has been increasingly rapidly in not just recent decades but recent years relative to our nation’s overall economy. Prior to the 2008 financial crisis, our debt-to-GDP ratio stood at a mere 62%. In 1980, it was a mere 31%.
Undoubtedly our current fiscal practices will eventually need remedying, as our country’s strong economic engine cannot keep pace spending on a limitless credit card that is only consequence-free for so long.
However, as the recent omnibus battle showed, in a Washington that is facing extreme tension over a variety of controversial policy debates it is difficult enough to even keep the government open let alone address longer-term priorities. Once our country has gotten itself out of the current paralyzed situation it is in, we may hopefully begin to finally do so.
Re-prints of some of my columns. NOTE: I ran a national weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section are re-prints of the national column.