The bipartisan $1.1 trillion appropriations bill agreed to by the House and Senate this week is the kind of budget measure Americans used to detest. It has heaping portions of pork – including one pricey item for a Charlotte company. It has policy directives that belong in other legislation, not a spending bill.
But compared to the harmful stopgap measures we’ve grown accustomed to Congress producing, this latest bill is a welcome reminder of a time when Washington (sort of) got things done.
The measure, which the House agreed to Wednesday, will fund the federal government through the end of the 2014 fiscal year in September, which means Americans won’t have to endure another shutdown spectacle until at least then. The bill’s biggest accomplishment, however, is undoing some of the damage caused by previous partisan fighting.
The measure restores some blunt cuts that resulted from the sequester Congress agreed on during the debt ceiling battle of 2011. The Head Start program would get $8.6 billion, which is $612 million more than last year and enough to restore about 57,000 slots that the sequester chopped. Critical health agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes for Health, also got relief from last year’s budget cuts.
But then there’s the pork. There are controversial green programs, and tens of millions of dollars for tanks the Army has suggested it doesn’t really want. There’s also money for non-essentials like a new engine for a 60-year-old train in Pennsylvania.
Another item, reported Tuesday by the New York Times, would increase by $43 million funding for the Small Modular Reactors program, which helps companies build a new type of nuclear reactor that’s smaller and safer than the traditional design. One of those companies is Charlotte-based Babcock & Wilcox. The program received the Golden Fleece Award for wastefulness from Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington group that targets boondoggles.
The appropriations bill is also dotted with policy “riders” that have little to do with budgets and a lot to do with settling political scores and advancing political agendas. One forbids the U.S. Postal Service from eliminating Saturday deliveries or closing rural post offices. Another prevents enforcement of new light bulb standards. Another maintains a coal industry loophole that allows companies to push waste materials from mountaintops into streambeds.
Republicans also did some backdoor policymaking by cutting money to financial regulators, making it harder to enforce the Dodd-Frank Act. Obamacare’s Prevention and Public Health fund, long a target of Republicans, also had $1 billion lopped off its budget.
In other words, after two years of hasty and harsh budget agreements, it’s back to business as usual in Congress. We guess it’s naive to wish we could have budgets free of shutdown threats and with a minimum of extraneous policy and pork. But this bill, flawed as it is, does an adequate job of funding critical programs at reasonable levels. For Washington, that’s progress.
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