Christopher Buskirk is editor and publisher of the website American Greatness and co-author, with Seth Leibsohn, of “American Greatness: How Conservatism, Inc. Missed the 2016 Election & What the D.C. Establishment Needs to Learn.”
The omnibus spending bill passed in the dead of night and signed into law Friday, on the eighth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, is bad policy and worse politics for Republicans facing midterm elections. Despite the GOP’s promises and congressional majorities, Obamacare is still the law of the land and the omnibus continues the unsustainable spending imperiling the country’s finances.
As the law’s details become better known, GOP voters’ already strong feeling of betrayal is growing so powerful that it may imperil the GOP majority. Feckless congressional leadership is getting most of the blame, but President Trump signed the bill and spent no political capital advocating his stated priorities. Power unused is power lost.
After the tax-reform package passed last year many of us believed the Republican Congress was finally showing signs of life and realizing why the American people had entrusted them with control of Capitol Hill and the White House. Failure to repeal Obamacare after seven years of pledges left GOP voters disheartened. But the victory of tax reform showed what Republicans could accomplish if they stuck together.
Now House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have made the same calculation that has failed so many Republicans before them. They believe that by breaking their promises, ignoring their base and giving Democrats what they want, they can win the votes of the modern political unicorn: the swing voter. It doesn’t work. Just ask Presidents McCain and Romney. Or they could just look at how Trump rallied the Republican faithful while still winning more Democrats, AfricanAmericans and Latinos than recent Republican presidential nominess. His pro-citizen, pro-worker, pro-growth agenda was a choice, not an echo. The Ryan-McConnell bill was not even an echo.
The excuse for passing this monstrosity without any review or comment from Congress, the president or the public is the same as it has been for years: “We have to pass the spending bill or the government will shut down!” By now, most people realize that the government never really shuts down during these fights. All that happens is that so-called nonessential employees get a few days of paid leave while Congress works on passing a bill. What’s worse, a government that lurches from crisis to crisis, passing trillion-dollar spending plans that no one has read, or a week’s worth of inconveniences at some national parks while Congress gets its act together and starts behaving responsibly?
There’s a reason that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), liberal media outlets and others cheered the bill. They realized that Democrats got more of their priorities funded with minorities in both houses than Trump did with majorities. It’s a laundry list of broken promises. The plan continues to fund Planned Parenthood, which receives $500 million in annual federal funding, breaking a decade-long Republican commitment to end federal aid to the nation’s largest abortion provider. The bill funds sanctuary cities but not the border wall. Worse, buried in the 2,232-page monstrosity is a not-so-subtle taunt directed at the president: an outright ban on construction of a border wall in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley. This is significant because that’s where the president’s plan would begin construction of the wall. So feckless were Republicans that not only could they not muster the courage or self-interest to fund the wall, they voted for an outright ban on part of it and directly thumbed their nose at their own voters.
The bill’s few defenders have tried using increased defense spending as justification for a budget that reflects Democrats’ agenda more than Trump’s. It is the same tired Bush-era excuse for runaway spending that funded growth of the leviathan state. This time no one is buying it. Trump promised that he would “NEVER sign another bill like this again.” But he said something similar after the last continuing resolution. I hope he follows through this time. If not, “never again” — one of the saddest lies of the 20th century — will start to sound a lot like “read my lips.”
The clock is ticking for GOP politicians. This capitulation is already causing Republican voters to ask, what’s the point? Why spend the time, the money and the emotional energy supporting people who lie to us? It’s the central question Republican leaders have to answer if they want to retain their power.