WASHINGTON – If you wanted the ultimate textbook example of what people perceive to be wrong with the federal government, the passage of the CR/omnibus by House and Senate last week was just that.
The legislation was a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund most of the government through September 2015. The Department of Homeland Security, however, will only receive funding through February to allow for a renewed fight against President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration once the new Republican majority is seated in the Senate.
The spending package’s approval in the House was not an easy task for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Despite being in the majority, many Republican lawmakers opposed the measure because it did not immediately defund President Obama’s executive actions. The loss of dozens of Republican votes due to immigration objections resulted in the GOP needing Democratic votes to get the bill across the finish line.
Even with the help of the Obama White House and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) it took some arm-twisting to move to get the votes to pass the measure at the last minute. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) staged an effort to block the bill’s passage.
Some of the vote corralling appears to have caused a split within Alabama’s congressional delegation, with both Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby as well as Reps. Mike Rogers and Mo Brooks voting against the legislation, but Reps. Bradley Byrne, Martha Roby, Spencer Bachus, Terry Sewell and Robert Aderholdt supporting it.
With last Thursday’s House vote being a much closer (219-206) than the Senate vote Saturday (56-40), it took some apparent sweeteners to win over the likes of Byrne and his colleagues.
Among those items in that grab of goodies included an extra $80 million for the construction of three new Littoral Combat Ships, an extra $200 million for the Joint High Speed Vessel (both of which were used to justify Byrne’s support) and funding for new Lakota Helicopters to be headquartered at Fort Rucker (part of which was used to justify Roby’s vote).
Roby and Byrne have certainly taken some heat from some of their constituents for the affirmative vote, which in the eyes of the detractors, didn’t do enough to attack President Obama’s perceived overreach on executive amnesty. But will it keep Byrne, Roby or Aderholdt from being reelected? No.
If you recall, then-Rep. Jo Bonner’s 2008 vote for the TARP bailout was an unpopular one and some of the voices that protested Bonner at the time are the same ones crying foul over Byrne’s vote.
Bonner would cruise to reelection in 2008, 2010 and 2012. It’s safe to assume that in 2016, the results will be similar for most of the Republican members of Congress in red states that bucked the conservative line on this spending bill.
There was a curious side story to this vote within the Alabama delegation. Despite voting against the measure, Sen. Richard Shelby touted both his opposition to legislation and those added sweeteners to win over the majority of Alabama’s GOP House members.
“While I support funding the government, as well as several conservative priorities and provisions important to Alabama in the omnibus, I opposed the overall bill,” Shelby said in a statement late Saturday. “The omnibus fails to properly address President Obama’s action to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants through executive fiat. I remain firmly opposed to providing amnesty to those who have broken our laws and I stand ready to fight against the President’s executive overreach when Republicans control both the House and the Senate next Congress.”
Approximately 20 minutes earlier, Shelby’s press secretary sent out this statement from Alabama’s senior senator:
“This bill funds defense-related programs that play a vital role in providing our nation’s military with the resources that they need to strengthen our national security,” Shelby said. “I am pleased that this bill includes funding to enhance Alabama’s national defense capabilities and continue our state’s commitment to serving our armed forces.”
Staffers in offices that had their phone lines flooded over the legislation, particularly on the House side, probably are saying it must be nice to be able to tout bringing home the bacon and lodge an ideological opposition simultaneously.
The fact remains that it took a 1,700-page bill larded up with goodies to win over borderline Republicans and Democrats, which is a very unseemly process — at least at face value.
This sort of process, however, has been a part of Washington for generations. A 24-hour news cycle fueled by both liberal and conservative outlets have made that process much more obvious to the hyper-engaged observer, hence the melting down of the telephone lines by what is likely a very vocal minority.
It doesn’t appear to be promising if you’re thinking will change in the near-term, even with a Republican majority on Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, Sessions continues to carry the banner for a righteous cause. Alabamians should be proud of that effort. The soon-to-be four-term junior senator has stuck to his guns on immigration, which is likely to even cost him the chairman’s gavel on the very important Senate Budget Committee.
Sessions’ remarks immediately following Saturday’s passage were different from his in-state colleagues.
“The Senate has made no attempt to defend itself, the Constitution and the citizens we are supposed to represent,” he said.
“Once again, Senate Democrats rallied around their leader to serve as the Administration’s imperial guard. They acted one more time to protect the White House at the expense of their own constituents. Why can’t Americans get representation in their own Senate?”
Earlier Saturday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) put forth a point of order on the constitutionality of the spending bill since it in part funds President Obama’s immigration policy established by his own executive order.
That effort failed miserably, even though Sessions and Shelby supported it. But it seemed to signify that both Alabama’s senators viewed votes by five of their colleagues in the House of Representatives (four of which are Republican) made an unconstitutional vote.
The next two years will be better gauge for judging the conservative bona fides of the congressional Republicans, but if you’re among those of us hoping for more fortitude in the fight against the growth of government, this was a discouraging start.