Omnibus and Tax Extendersby Senator Mike Lee
Posted on 2015-12-17
LEE. Mr. President, here we are again: another year of
legislative dysfunction capped by an undemocratic, unrepublican process
that uses the threat of another manufactured crisis to impose on an
unwilling country the same broken government policies that have
repeatedly failed the people they are supposed to serve.
The bills moving through Congress today and tomorrow, made up of the omnibus spending bill and the tax extenders package, and the process that produced it are an affront to the Constitution--to the very idea of constitutionalism--and an insult to the American people we were elected to represent.
I am not even talking about the substance of the bill, which is bad enough and which I will get to in just a moment. I am talking about the way it was produced. A small handful of leaders from the two parties got together behind closed doors to decide what the Nation's taxing and spending policies will be for the next year. Then, after several weeks, the negotiators emerged, grand bargain in hand, confident the people they deliberately excluded from the policymaking process would now support all 2,242 pages of the legislative leviathan that they cooked up. This is not how a self-governing--or a self-respecting--institution operates, and everyone here knows it.
The leaders who presided over these negotiations were elected, just like the rest of us, to represent the people residing in their State or congressional district and not the entire population of the country. Yet they excluded 99 percent of the country from this process, as if their representatives are just partisan seals trained to bark and clap on cue for their leaders.
That anyone is celebrating this bill as some kind of achievement is further evidence of how out of touch Washington has truly become. Indeed, the very premise of this process--that the established leaders of the two parties [[Page S8774]] can accurately and fairly represent 320 million Americans--is itself absurd. This isn't just my opinion; it is the opinion of the vast and bipartisan majority of our constituents.
Seventy percent of the American people think the country is on the wrong track, and Congress, for its part, is the least trusted institution in this country. A dwindling minority of Americans trust the Federal Government to do what is right for the country.
The country doesn't trust us or respect us. And if we pass this bill and assent to the secretive, undemocratic process behind it, we will be telling the country, loud and clear, that the feeling is mutual. All of this is before we even get into the substance of this bill. We are being told that the omnibus and tax extenders grand bargain is a legislative accomplishment of the highest order--some kind of shining example of what can happen when the two parties in Washington come to together to ``get things done.'' In a sense, I don't disagree. This bill is the textbook example of how Washington actually works, and that is precisely the problem because all too often, when Washington works, it does so not for American families, workers, or future generations, but for political elites and the sprawling ecosystem of lobbyists and special interests that subsist on the Federal Government's largesse.
This bill is a case study of Washington's bipartisan bargains turning into special interest bonanzas. Like so many policies that come out of Congress today, the omnibus and tax extenders have something for everyone.
Maybe you are a Puerto Rican rum distributor or exporter. If you are, this bill has you covered. It renews an underhanded tax scheme whereby the United States imposes artificially high import taxes on rum from Puerto Rico and then sends the proceeds back to the island's government.
Perhaps you own a stable, multimillion-dollar racehorses, or maybe a NASCAR speedway. In either case, you are in luck, too, because this bill maintains the profitable accelerated depreciation schedules carved out in the Tax Code just for you.
Maybe you run a salmon fishery and you are concerned about genetically engineered salmon cutting into your market share. Don't worry, there is something in this bill for you, too--a provision that empowers the Food and Drug Administration to use its regulatory powers to block genetically engineered salmon from hitting the grocery store shelves.
Puerto Rican rum exporters, racehorse owners and breeders, speedway owners, salmon fishermen--this bill has something for everyone except for one group: the hard-working individuals and families living in one of America's forgotten communities left behind by Washington, DC's, broken status quo.
I will be the first to admit there are some laudable provisions in both the spending and the tax bill that make some important policy reforms. There is the 2-year moratorium on ObamaCare's ill-conceived medical device tax and the defunding of ObamaCare's cronyist Risk Corridor Program. There is the lifting of the government's foolish ban on crude oil exports and the extension of several sound tax provisions that never should have been temporary in the first place. But the process has been rigged so that we can't vote on these commendable policy reforms by themselves. In fact, we can't vote for any one of these sensible, positive reforms without also voting for each and every dysfunctional, irresponsible, and unsustainable policy found in the 2,000-page bill--a bill, by the way, we received 36 hours ago--nor, it appears, will we have the opportunity to amend a single provision found within this massive legislation.
This is a ``take it or leave it'' proposition. That means no up-or- down votes on controversial provisions that Members of the House and Senate as of 36 hours ago had no idea were going to be in this bill. There will be no up-or-down vote on the President's controversial Green Climate Fund; the unpopular and unwise cyber security measure; the divisive rules promoted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development; and the backdoor tweaks to the H-2B immigration visa program--all hidden within the pages of this bill, none of which saw the light of day, none of which saw committee action, none of which had the opportunity to be debated and discussed and changed, improved, amended until 36 hours ago and still will have no opportunity to be changed, improved, or amended even after they hit the floor.
We will not have a chance to add the priorities of the more than 500 Members of Congress who were not in the negotiating room. So all Members who weren't there are left out of the process altogether. For instance, Members of Congress from Western States, including my home State of Utah, have been working tirelessly for months on a provision to prohibit the Bureau of Land Management from using government funds to implement the Bureau's land-use plans in the nearly 67 million acres of sage grouse habitat situated on western Federal lands.
Amendments to strike or to add those provisions might have succeeded or they might have failed, but either way, the American people at least would have known where their representatives stood on these issues. With that transparency comes accountability, credibility, and ultimately trust. If the House and Senate actually voted for these measures as amendments to the spending bill, I might not like it, but it would at least put the question back into the hands of the American people and their elected representatives instead of deliberately taking it from them.
Our credibility is on the line here. There is still time to get it back. We can still fix this. We can hit the reset button. We can pass a short-term, stopgap spending bill and then come back to this in the new year and give it the time it deserves, approach this with the kind of process for which this body has always up until now been known. Give the American people back their voice. Let's keep the government funded but buy ourselves more time so that this can be debated, discussed, improved, changed, and, where appropriate, amended.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oregon.