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Sometimes Washington is remarkably tone deaf.
As Monday’s passage of the 5,000-plus-page mega-bill incorporating $1.4 trillion in “normal” government spending with the $900 billion COVID-19 kicker became imminent, our elected officials celebrated.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner told us, “[t]he great news is Congress is not going to be the Grinch.”
When Congress’ does its job — passing a budget — it means they avoid Christmas villany? Tone deaf.
After the agreement was reached, Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy told his staff, “Dom Perignon for everybody.”
Tone deaf, even if he was celebrating a law meant to end people’s surprise medical bills.
Meanwhile, some in Washington were in Grinchy moods despite the $2.3 trillion in spending. That included the No. 2 House Democrat: Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland. His Christmas was ruined.
Why? Because a group of officials blocked his attempt to give Congress a $4,500 “cost of living” pay raise. Hoyer will need to get by on an Ebenezer Scrooge-esqe $174,000 a year.
I say Hoyer’s protest is tone deaf. Maine Rep. Jared Golden called it “shockingly out of touch.”
Undoubtedly, federal legislators in the depths of the District of Columbia loved the “inside baseball” concept of merging COVID-19 response with the annual appropriations act. The latter was “must pass” to avoid a government shutdown in the midst of a pandemic, with an administration change nigh.
Since it had to pass, bolting on COVID-19 programs made sense in legislative land. It reduces the opportunity for other officials to object.
But they were tone deaf to the times. Particularly in the time of Twitter.
Shortly after the final bill was printed, the memeification began on the left and right alike.
One critique lists out billions of dollars of appropriated spending for foreign nations. $130 million for Nepal. $500 million for Israel. At the end? “Citizens — $600.”
It is an effective message, even if it isn’t a completely fair comparison. For example, that $500 million? That is part of an agreement between the U.S. and Israel made under President Barack Obama. Or, in other words, the last time Joe Biden had an office in the White House.
The one person in Washington seemingly able to capture the moment? President Donald Trump. He quickly seized on the outrage to demand both a reduction in “wasteful spending,” as well as an increase in “stimulus” to $2,000 per person.
Whatever the merits of his policymaking, it certainly isn’t tone deaf. He made Congress look miserly.
The silver lining of this debacle is that it greatly increased public interest in the public treasury. There were no similar outcries when the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act passed. That bill authorized $3.1 billion in grants to Israel and $121 million for Nepal, among countless other things also contained in this week’s bill.
If officials believe this spending to be wise despite the public outcry, then it is incumbent upon them to work to explain it to the American public. If they fail to do so yet still believe it is the right call, it is up to them to cast the unpopular vote. They were elected to do so; they can face the music at the ballot box.
When the pandemic is behind us, it will be time to make very difficult decisions indeed. Many will be unpopular.
The national debt is ballooning from the various payments and programs made with borrowed money. It was bad to begin with; the pandemic made it worse. Bringing it back in line will require either reduction in expenses or raising of revenue. Or, more succinctly, either program cuts or additional taxes. In reality, it will probably need to be a mix of both.
Hopefully, they can find a way to clearly explain and support those decisions, however difficult they may be. Because if they keep it up with tone deaf calls for champagne and “cost of living” raises for barely doing their jobs — well, one of those “stimulus” memes is how to build a guillotine. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.