Commentary

The Cromnibus: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This week, House and Senate negotiators released the legislative text for the government’s newest spending bill, dubbed the “Cromnibus.” The bill authorizes the government to spend $1.1 trillion on discretionary programs between now and September 30, 2015. The total spending level honors last year’s Ryan-Murray budget deal, and also makes a number of important changes to federal law. Since hardly anybody has time to read all 1,600 pages of this massive legislation, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good:

The Cromnibus includes multiple provisions that should be applauded. For example, two controversial federal agencies had their budgets dramatically cut. Funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was cut by $60 million, continuing a steady trend in reductions since 2010, and the IRS’s budget is cut by $345.6 million.

The bill does not cut funding for ObamaCare implementation, but it also does not include any new funding to the Department of Health and Human Services and the IRS, the two agencies with primary implementation responsibilities. More importantly, the bill limits ObamaCare’s risk corridor provision, which provides a bailout to insurance companies who experienced greater-than-anticipated losses from new ObamaCare enrollees.

Congress’ Cromnibus spends too much money, including its $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending and $64 billion in funding for military operations.

Finally, the federal moratorium on internet taxes is extended for one year.  In 1998, Congress passed a law making it illegal for federal, state, or local governments to impose taxes on internet access, such as bandwidth or email taxes. Analysis from the American Action Forum estimated that if the moratorium lapsed, American taxpayers would pay $15 billion a year in new taxes. While extending the moratorium another year is good news, the incoming Congress should make it permanent.

The Bad:

Last December, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) agreed to a deal that set fiscal year 2015 spending levels at $1.1 trillion. The Cromnibus honors those spending levels. It’s rare that Congress actually honors its promises, but there is good reason to curb your enthusiasm. The Ryan-Murray deal increased spending for this year by $18 billion from a prior deal made in 2011 by Congress and the president. It’s encouraging that Congress honors its commitment from last year, but given our dire fiscal straits, they should have been able to maintain spending levels agreed to just three years ago.

The budget deal also provides $64 billion in funding for overseas military operations, including $5 billion for the fight against ISIS and additional funding to fight the spread of Ebola. The $64 billion is in addition to the $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending, raising the true cost of government for taxpayers. Instead of using the overseas contingency operations kitty as a slush fund to increase spending without guilt, Congress should offset emergency spending requests by cutting spending elsewhere in the budget.

The Ugly:

The District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly in November to legalize marijuana. Voters in the District supported the proposal 2 to 1. But the new Cromnibus effectively blocks the legalization process in defiance of the popular vote. To overturn the voters’ decision in this way is shameful.

The budget deal does not cut overall federal spending nor does it reform our entitlement programs. Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 85 percent of budget growth over the next ten years will be from Social Security, the major health care programs, and interest on the national debt. This deal does nothing to address those gargantuan fiscal problems.

Congress’ Cromnibus spends too much money, including its $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending and $64 billion in funding for military operations. But it’s not all bad. If nothing else, it sets the stage for the incoming Congress to focus on much-needed spending reforms.

Nicole Kaeding is a budget analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.