While hagglers appeared to have reached a bipartisan framework agreement on a full-year omnibus spending plan, fiscal hawks like Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson are asking an important question: Why haven’t we gone back to normal spending now that the pandemic is over?
On Thursday, the Senate easily passed a a one-week continuing resolution, keeping the government funded through December 23. A worked-over spending plan is expected to be unveiled Monday, as negotiations continue in the shadow of another government shutdown threat in the days before the Christmas break.
Johnson joined Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) at a press conference to oppose the Pelosi-Schumer Omnibus spending bill. They instead argued in favor of a short-term Continuing Resolution through early next month to allow ample time to analyze and debate additional government spending.
The senators note that in 2019, before unprecedented pandemic-era spending, federal expenditures totaled $4.4 trillion. At the end of 2022, months after President Joe Biden declared the pandemic over, spending is estimated at $6 trillion, a 36 percent increase.
“We, as 535 members of Congress, we literally are the Board of Directors of the largest financial entity in the world and we never talk numbers,” Johnson said. “We’re mortgaging our kids’ futures. This is killing us from a financial standpoint. It’s got to stop.”
The rising national debt, topping $31.4 trillion, is why Johnson says he supported Lee’s unanimous consent request to pass a continuing resolution, “as much as we all hate CRs, the dysfunction they represent.” The idea was to hold off on a spending plan vote until at least next month, when Republicans regain control of the House. Democrats blocked Lee’s request.
“Pass a CR that gets us into next year. Not only to give a Republican House an opportunity to respond to the people that put them in place, but also to give us time to start understanding what these numbers actually mean,” Johnson implored.
U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI 7th CD) told Empower Wisconsin earlier this week he supports delaying a vote too.
“I think Senator (Mitch) McConnell should lay down the gauntlet and say, ‘No, we’re going to push this off until January when the new congress comes in,’” Tiffany said, referring to the Kentucky Republican and Senate Minority Leader. “The American people would say it should not be a lame duck congress passing this spending blowout.”
But wheelers and dealers were smelling a victory of sorts, although taxpayers will once again likely lose.
In his spending plan, Biden sought a spending increase of $56.3 billion, or 9.5 percent, for discretionary spending at non-defense agencies.
“Merry Christmas, Americans. Democrats and big government Republicans will be offering you a Christmas tree. A Christmas tree in Washington is a bill that has something on it for everyone,” Paul said. “You won’t know what it is until you get it. You won’t be able to read it until it’s done. But it will happen because the one thing that invariably happens in Washington is that they will get together to spend money.”
Lee said the pass-or-shutdown game of chicken going on just more congressional extortion.
“If congress wants to pass an omnibus, it’s not likely to get my vote. But we should at least allow our colleagues to do so with clear heads and not through this extortive threat.”
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M.D. Kittle is a senior reporter at Wisconsin Spotlight.
Photo “Ron Johnson” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Photo “Rick Scott” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Photo “Mike Lee” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Photo “Rand Paul” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Background Photo “U.S. Capitol” by Martin Falbisoner. CC BY-SA 3.0.