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Honorable Mark Sanford

Representing the 1st District of South Carolina

Vote Notes: H.R. 244, Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 (Omnibus)

May 3, 2017
Blog Post

The vote we just took was remarkable. In this vein, take a look at this screenshot. It says everything. In a House, Senate, and White House controlled by Republicans, there were only fifteen Democratic “no” votes for the omnibus bill.

You tell me who the bill most helped.

In fact, they say in politics at times you are known by the friends you keep. So, if friends to the bill in question include people like Nancy Pelosi, it should give a conservative pause.

In this regard today, Congress voted on H.R. 244, an omnibus spending bill that will fund the government through the remainder of the 2017 financial year, which ends on September 30. The bill did pass by a vote of 309 to 118. I was one of 103 Republicans who voted no, while 15 Democrats did the same. I’d like to take a moment and explain why I voted as I did.

First, a little background about why Congress is voting on funding for 2017 so late in the game this year….

Last December, Congress approved a so-called continuing resolution to keep the federal government running through April 28...last Friday. At the time, the presidential election had already happened, and candidate Trump had become President-elect Trump. In an effort to clear the way for the incoming administration’s legislative priorities, Republicans in Congress decided to put off fighting for a long list of conservative proposals in that continuing resolution. Instead, the idea was simply to bridge the government funding gap into the new administration, which would then author its own budget that would assumedly be much more reflective of conservative priorities.

We have now crossed that funding bridge. Unfortunately, the truly conservative budget that we were promised to find on the other side is nowhere to be found.

In general, this bill authorizes $1.163 trillion in discretionary spending for fiscal year 2017.

Think about it. In 2015, the deficit was $439 billion. In 2016, it increased to $587 billion, And this year’s projected deficit is $559 billion, based on the spending in the omnibus bill. One can not keep digging and get out of a hole….

Considering that our national debt is already projected to increase by approximately $10 trillion within the next decade - from an already astounding $20 trillion, this omnibus spending bill represents a step in the wrong direction. We desperately need to start closing the gap between our taxes and spending, not widen it, as this bill would do.

On one hand, this budget stays within the caps on discretionary spending set out in the Balanced Budgets and Control Act of 2015. But it’s fake. It’s gamed, given it includes a substantial increase in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations, or the war-fighting budget, which is not subject to those discretionary spending caps. Once again, this omnibus spending bill treats the war-fighting budget as a way to circumvent the spending caps.

There are certainly valid arguments to be made in favor of increasing defense spending subject to the spending cap, which would require raising the cap itself. Those arguments deserve to be heard and debated by the full Congress. Using budget gimmickry to increase defense spending without violating the cap, as opposed to actually having that debate, is irresponsible.

A closer look at funding levels for specific programs reveals even more problems. The bill does not prohibit funding to Planned Parenthood or so-called “sanctuary cities,” which openly defy federal immigration laws. The bill does include funding, however, for questionable programs like the Orion Space Launch System and a new $323 million headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigations. It also provides nearly $1 billion for programs focusing on alleviating hunger in foreign countries, as opposed to hunger in our own country.

The omnibus makes permanent a temporary program enacted in the continuing resolution from December, which pays part of the cost of health insurance for former employees of mining companies that have gone bankrupt. In other words, this bill allows those mining companies to offload the responsibility of paying for benefits they promised their employees onto the federal government. Furthermore, the cost of the program is offset in the omnibus through increased customs duties on imported manufactured goods, thereby shifting the cost burden onto consumers who purchase those goods.

While there are a handful of positive aspects to this bill, they mostly have to do with what was left out. For example, a number of riders that would have weakened environmental protections were ultimately left out of the bill, which is encouraging. The bill also omits a proposed, drastic cut to the budget for the National Institutes of Health, which funds important research on critical issues like pediatric cancer.

Also worth noting is the lack of funding for President Trump’s proposed wall along our southern border with Mexico. While I am in favor of building such a wall, I don’t think it should be done at the expense of larger budget deficits. An ideal solution would have been to include funding for the wall that was totally offset elsewhere in the budget.

In summary, there is simply more to dislike in this budget than there is to like. These omnibus spending bills are always a mixed bag, including concessions and omissions designed to garner enough votes to pass. What’s more, they are always very long, yet lawmakers are given a very short time to review them. This time, we were given only 62 hours to review a bill that stretched over 1,665 pages. This was not the truly conservative budget it was intended to be. Accordingly, I voted against it.