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Senate Vote: 235     Vote Date: Dec 17th, 2011

Issue: H.R. 2055, Latest title: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 [Megabus]. Vehicle: A bill making appropriations for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012, and for other purposes. Question: On the Conference Report (3/5 vote required).

Result: Passed, 67 to 32, 1 not voting. Became Public Law 112-74 (signed by the President 12-23-11). GOP and Democrats scored.

Bill Summary:  Funds the majority of the federal government through the remainder of the fiscal year (ending September 2012). Provides for $915 billion in discretionary spending and $126 billion in military funding — maintaining the cap of $1.043 trillion laid out in the debt ceiling deal worked out between Boehner and President Barack Obama in August.

Analysis:  In November, Congress approved a “minibus” consisting of three of the 12 regular annual appropriations bills. The remaining bills were lumped into this $1.043 trillion, business-as-usual “megabus.”

Lumping so many diverse programs together undermines fiscal responsibility and any serious effort, if there were one, to begin defunding unconstitutional programs.

Accordingly, it was encouraging to see 32 senators (30 Republicans, 1 Democrat, and 1 Independent) vote against the megabus.   Note: In the Senate, 16 Republicans joined 50 Democrats to pass this measure under a 3/5 rule.

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)

Within the minibus and megabus packages the following individual appropriations bills consist largely of unconstitutional “discretionary” spending: Agriculture ($19.8 Billion); Energy and Water ($32.0 Billion); Interior and Environment (most of $27.5 Billion); Labor, HHS, and Education ($139.2 Billion). Total: $218.5 Billion.

Then there are the “mixed” appropriation bills that contain significant constitutional spending along with massive unconstitutional spending: Transportation & HUD ($47.7 Billion); Commerce, Justice, Science ($50.2 Billion).

Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) argued that the conference megabus represented a real cut in federal spending:

“After weeks of tough negotiations with our Senate counterparts — and several tenuous days this past week — we were able to complete a bipartisan, bicameral compromise that rolls back federal budgets, makes smart investments in programs people rely on, and implements policy changes that will bolster American business and our economy….

“As with any compromise, this bill isn’t perfect, but it represents the kind of responsible governing that will help move our country forward.” — “86 House Republicans Vote Against $1 Trillion-Plus Megabus Bill,” CNSNews.com 12-19-11.

         We most definitely disagree. After including $10.4 billion in disaster aid not considered in the Budget Control Act cap, the Heritage Foundation calculates that “discretionary” spending actually went up a billion dollars compared to FY 2011.

And FY 2011 turned in a $1.3 trillion deficit.   (Of course, a good share of that deficit is generated by shortfalls in revenue collected for “mandatory” multi-year programs, such as Medicare.)

Representative Jeff Flake also complained: “Whenever we come to an impasse, our leadership says, we canʼt shut the
government down. We havenʼt had the leverage in any negotiation weʼve gone into. Thatʼs whatʼs frustrating to me.”

What Flake may not realize is that the fix is in. The leaders of both parties are committed to increasing the size and reach of the federal government.   The partisan battles over small changes in spending levels serve to camouflage that fact.

What America needs is for Congress to use the Constitution as its yardstick to phase out and eliminate decades of unconstitutional programs. Much of the leverage for that course has to come from an informed constituency back home.

However, more Congressmen who refuse to accept minibus and megabus packages as a substitute for the individual appropriations bills would be a healthy step in the right direction.