Governing

The Strange, Disorienting Sight of Congress Working


On Monday, congressional appropriators agreed to a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, a 1,582-page document that fleshes out the details of the budget the two parties settled on (with surprising ease) in December. Congress probably won’t be able to pass this spending bill before funding for the government runs out on Wednesday. For once, this isn’t because the two parties are pitted against each other in a bitter showdown. It’s because the omnibus bill actually encompasses 12 individual spending bills, which is hardly uncomplicated and—look, far be it from me to castigate anyone for missing their deadline—I mean, it’s not like we try to miss them, and we’re all working really hard over here, and sometimes life interferes and, you know, writing is hard work!

Where was I? Ah, yes: the spending bill. After Congress passes a three-day continuing resolution to buy itself a little more time (and ignores the glares from its editor, who can just write the damn thing himself, if he’s in such a rush!), it will put the finishing touches on a bill that represents the sort of compromise that used to be standard fare.

Republicans will give up the notion of defunding Obamacare and stopping the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating limits on carbon emissions, but they’ll get more money for the Pentagon and overall spending levels that equal the latter Bush years. Democrats will have to agree that federal funds won’t be used for abortions, and they won’t fund the agencies at nearly the level they’d hoped to. But they’ll get new money for Head Start.

Then there’s some random stuff, such as a provision that would bar funding for the Obama administration to enforce the new ban on incandescent light bulbs. (That is, weirdly, a glorious triumph for—and capstone on the congressional career of—Representative Michele Bachman, who authored the “Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act.”)

What’s remarkable is how something as unremarkable as this omnibus bill can pass through Congress (probably) without the headache-inducing, economy-damaging drama of maximal opposition that has accompanied nearly every piece of significant legislation in the past few years. That’s worth celebrating, even if it doesn’t quite get finished by the deadline.

Green_190
Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

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