Congress is finally back in town, and they’ve got plenty of unfinished homework that has piled up since July. Lawmakers will likely need to pass a continuing resolution (CR) by Sept. 30 to avert yet another government shutdown. They will also have to figure out how to deal with continued sky-high unemployment claims.
Meanwhile, the House and Senate must reconcile a mammoth, $741 billion Defense bill. But with the national credit card maxed out at nearly $27 trillion, lawmakers will need to work together and pass significant legislation without the usual waste and pork-barrel spending. Now is no time for bloated spending bills.
Lawmakers have much to do with preciously few working days left in the fiscal year. For now, there appears to be a tenuous pact between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to pass a clean CR that would keep federal agencies funded through the presidential election in November. First and foremost, any CR must extend into 2021 to avoid a clash of government funding and a lame duck Congress where literally anything can happen. Members of Congress who have either lost their election or are retiring should have zero input on funding that will last beyond their tenure in Congress.
But even if funding is extended through the start of 2021, it’s hard to take Speaker Pelosi at her word that she wants a clean CR. Taxpayers and watchdog groups will recall that, a week before the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Pelosi introduced a multi-trillion-dollar ideological wish list that had absolutely nothing to do with coronavirus relief. Instead of discussing how best to help Americans cope with COVID-19, the debate shifted to corporate board diversity requirements, green subsidies, and blanket student loan forgiveness. Let’s hope that Pelosi comes to her senses and refrains from bogging down future spending bills with waste and frivolities.
If Congressional leadership is serious about keeping the CR clean, they’ll take care to ensure that infrastructure spending doesn’t hitch a ride on core agency appropriations. Fusing this funding to the CR will all but ensure that House Democrats’ earlier, wasteful infrastructure proposal becomes the law of the land.
In June, House Democrats released a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that included a bank-breaking $100 billion for broadband, $70 billion for “green” boondoggles, and $25 billion for the United States Postal Service (USPS). The bill promised to provide $100 billion to “promote competition for broadband internet infrastructure to unserved and underserved rural, suburban, and urban communities.” But the government has a horrible track-record in supporting and building out broadband infrastructure. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has documented these failures at munibroadbandfailures.org.
Created by Congress in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the Universal Service Fund has already spent roughly $100 billion on expanding and improving the digital domain. But, according to a 2013 study by George Mason and Georgetown University professors, “Administrative failure, market competition, and technological evolution have rendered the USF system obsolete.” Rather than reorienting the program toward reducing barriers to private broadband deployment, the Democrats’ infrastructure bill would continue to throw taxpayer dollars at the same failed programs and systems.
The infrastructure proposal would also “invest” more than $70 billion in taxpayer funding to “transform the electric grid to accommodate more renewable energy” and bolster existing tax subsidies. But these subsidies overwhelmingly accrue to well-off households at the expense of hard-working Americans. According to 2018 research by Pacific Research Institute senior fellow Dr. Wayne Winegarden, roughly 80 percent of electric vehicle tax credit payouts go to households earning six figures. Instead of bolstering these costly,p Robin Hood-in-reverse schemes, Congress should commit to a clean funding bill that gets the job done at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers.
America is already up to its eyeballs in debt, and the red ink will not go away absent significant spending discipline. The government can be funded without endless boondoggles and misdirected priorities. Lawmakers have their work cut out for them and the clock is ticking.
Ross Marchand is vice president of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.