SAVICKAS: Congress Plays ‘Secret Santa‘ With Your Money In Government Funding Bill

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Daniel Savickas Contributor
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The holiday season is in full swing and Christmas is just around the corner. No doubt, many Americans are anxiously waiting to find out what is inside the neatly wrapped gifts currently sitting in an attic or underneath a well-decorated tree. In a similar spirit, Congress is poised to pass a massive omnibus spending bill this week. Because of the sheer size of the legislation, many members of Congress will have to wait until Christmas – or even later – to find out what is actually in it, to paraphrase Nancy Pelosi’s 2010 remark.

To avert a government shutdown last week, both chambers of Congress passed a one-week stopgap continuing resolution to fund the government until December 23rd. Regrettably, this puts Congress in the unenviable position of likely having to decide between fiscal recklessness or a shutdown right before Christmas. This is nothing new for Congress and – unfortunately – they almost invariably choose the former which is always the more expensive option.

According to the recently introduced text, the details do not paint a pretty picture. The new funding measure spans roughly 4,000 pages and spends a whopping $1.7 trillion. Also of note are approximately 7,500 earmarks, which carry a combined price tag of about $16 billion.

Earmarks were banned as a legislative tool until very recently. They typically carry three characteristics. First, they are requested by a singular member of the House or Senate. Second, they are directed towards a singular entity, state, locality, or congressional district. Lastly, they are awarded by means other than an administrative formula or competitive process.

This is why earmarks quickly became an easy means to deliver corrupt giveaways for special interests with little-to-no oversight. Thankfully, under the leadership of then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House GOP conference banned earmarks upon assuming control of the House in 2011. The opposition to earmarks was by no means partisan, as President Obama stated at the time. “Because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.”

Unfortunately, this omnibus signals that not only are earmarks back, they are back in force. The 7,500 earmarks in this bill represent nearly half the combined total of earmarks from every bill passed in the year 2011 – the most recent year earmarks were in use.

The bill also includes $80 billion in new funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for “enforcement” measures. This includes lowering the threshold for electronic transactions to fall under the guise of the IRS. Previously, if taxpayers earned over $20,000 in transactions on apps like Venmo, they would have to report it to the IRS. However, under this new plan, the threshold is lowered to $600. Such a drastic decrease will lump in many Americans who are just carrying out everyday exchanges with friends and family.

There is demonstrated bipartisan support for restoring the $20,000 threshold once again. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) offered an amendment that would have done just that, which came up short by only two votes. There is little doubt that – with some additional tinkering – that Congress can come up with a bipartisan agreement to avoid unleashing IRS auditors on neighborhood babysitters and friends who pick up split checks at restaurants. This is something negotiators should dedicate time to this coming week.

It should also be noted that Congress is under no obligation to get all of this done this week. While the deadline for government funding is this Friday, Congress can – and should – pass another continuing resolution that lasts until some time in the first quarter of 2023. The new batch of legislators elected by the American people should be able to figure this out without the specter of a Christmas shutdown looming over them. Leaders like Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) have already offered continuing resolutions that last until March 10th of next year. The rest of Congress should get on board.

While the American people wait for gifts this Christmas season, Congress appears only interested in giving gifts to special interests and IRS bureaucrats. Given America’s tenuous financial situation, this omnibus spending bill is too important to be rushed through without knowing what’s in it. Secret Santa may be fun, but in this case, it’s far better to know what’s inside beforehand.


Dan Savickas is the Director of Policy at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.