During the debate earlier this week, Congress quietly issued an omnibus budget bill. It just passed both houses today. There is some stuff in the bill to like but a lot to dislike.
- Provisions do tighten immigration and refugee procedures were dropped, although the visa waiver program will be tightened.
- The bill increases overall spending.
- The bill increased the budget deficit, albeit mostly through extending tax provisions.
- The bill includes surveillance provisions that violate civil liberties, essentially passing CISA through the back door.
There are a few provisions I don’t have a strong opinion about at this point. The bill increases the number of H2-B visas dramatically, which is opposed in many quarters. It also drops the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. Personally, I would prefer that we drop all non-budget riders from the bill.
There’s another provision that’s kind of difficult to get a grasp on. The bill makes some tweaks to Obamacare: delaying the Cadillac tax, dropping the medical device tax and maintaining the caps on the “risk corridors”. The tax delays cost money but make Obamacare more palatable to some opponents. The risk corridors could result in insurance companies leaving the system. But the willingness of Democrats to negotiate away parts of Obamacare may portend an uncertain future for the program and an eventual overhaul. So we’ll have to see where this goes.
Now the good:
- It lifts the crude oil export ban.
- It make a number of tax breaks permanent or long-term, rather than having them renewed every year. This at least will mean more honest accounting. Indeed, much of the deficit increase is on paper because we’ve stopped pretending we’re going to let those tax breaks expire.
- It replaces the sequester with more targeted spending cuts.
- It avoids a government shutdown.
That last bit is probably the most important. The budget deal is a step toward renewing the normal budget process rather than budgeting through a series of self-created crises. It is a worrying step toward both parties agreeing to ignore the deficit. That will have to be addressed. But if we’re getting back to a normal budget process, it should at least be easier to tell what the hell Congress is doing.