Pork Has Returned to Washington in Full force in this Omnibus Bill

Show Notes

On the latest episode of The Drill Down, Peter and Eric shake off some holiday crud and plunge back into Washington crud. They start by breathing in the sooty exhaust of the Omnibus.

Late in December, Congress passed a $1.7 trillion Omnibus budget that none of its members had time to read. In the Senate, eighteen Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the largest spending bill ever passed. Peter wonders what they got for supporting it. “This massive monstrosity of a bill was crafted in secret. No one knew what was in it,” he says. What we know now is there were lots and lots of “earmarks” in it. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) devoted a thread on Twitter to outlining a few of them.

Earmarks are specific spending provisions that benefit one member’s state or district – money specifically granted for one very specific purpose and to benefit one very specific recipient. A more common term for them is “pork.” They are put into spending bills to secure the support of a key member. The Omnibus budget just passed has about 4,000 of them.

Peter and Eric take a different approach to talking about this, wondering what a sampling of three very different members of the House and Senate said and how they voted on this budget.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

They consider Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for their first example. Ocasio-Cortez is no fiscal conservative. She set aside set aside $500,000 for “new immigrant community empowerment” in Jackson Heights, New York; $3 million for “clean energy workforce development and supportive services;” and $400,000 to progressive immigration nonprofit Make the Road New York, among other spending. She supported $1 million to Westchester Square Plaza for highway infrastructure, $1 million to the New York City Department of Transportation for “Astoria Boulevard safety improvements,” and $1 million to the New York Botanical Garden for a “worker’s operation center.”

So, she must have voted for the Omnibus, right? Wrong. She got the money for her district but voted against the bill because it funded the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), along with $858 billion in defense spending.

Sen. Mitt Romney

Peter and Eric then look at Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who ran for president in 2012 as a moderate, but a fiscal conservative. Eric calls him a “warm cup of cocoa.” Surely, Romney would oppose such a massive increase in the federal budget and the resulting explosion of national debt, right? Wrong.

Voting for the bill, Romney said: “$1.7 trillion is an enormous amount of money. It pays for our servicemen and women, our veterans, our social safety net programs — in fact, it pays for the work of the entire federal government. I wish the number were smaller, but I am convinced that if we were to reject this budget and kick the can down the road until next year, we would end up having to spend even more.”

Sen. Tom Cotton

Then there is the more hardcore conservative example of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). Cotton is as conservative as they come in the Senate, a fighter against profligate spending. In fact, he was eloquent against the budget bill. Cotton said, “Costs are rising for Arkansans on everyday necessities like gasoline and groceries, and now Democrats are using the crisis in Europe to push through their liberal wish list. This massive $1.5 trillion spending bill will fuel the fire of inflation and expand President Biden’s federal bureaucracy. Aid for Ukraine is much needed, but this bill wasn’t the way to pass it.”

Did you notice something there? Cotton said “$1.5 trillion.” That is because he made those remarks back in March of 2022 about virtually the same budget bill. But guess what? Cotton voted in favor of the same bill, eight months and $200 billion more dollars later, in December.

What changed? The final bill had $157 million for 36 projects in Arkansas.

Peter recalls a great quotation from a former Louisiana senator named John Breaux, who left the Senate to become a very successful lobbyist. When he was in office, Breaux became famous for saying, “I’m not for sale. I am for rent, but I’m not for sale.”

Breaux was ahead of his time.