Congress’ Gift That Keeps on Giving

P.J. O’Rourke highlights the special gifts to taxpayers in the $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” spending bill.

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

The Holiday Season is a time of family togetherness. The kids are out of school, Mom is out of get-up-and-go, Dad is out of work. We gather around the cozy fireplace. We sip hot chocolate. We sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bells”. Then I read aloud from something that captures the Holiday Spirit.

Usually it might be “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens,” or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss or the poem by Clemet Clarke Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

But this year it’s “HOUSE AMENDMENT TO THE SENATE AMENDMENT TO H.R. 83 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015,” otherwise known as the $1.1 trillion budget bill.

We’re only on page 105 out of 1,603 pages, so the budget will keep the kids tickled with joy and on the edge of their seats through New Year’s, if not the 4th of July.

What a glorious yuletide moment of national fellowship H.R. 83 was! In the House, Republicans passed the budget by 219-206 with the warm-hearted help of 57 Democrats. In the Senate, the Democrats passed the budget 56-40 with the generous aid of 24 Republicans. The mistletoe must have been hanging right across the aisle on Capital Hill.

And so it was that the federal government did not shut down just when we all had visions of sugar plumbs dancing in our heads. Enforcement of U.S Code, Title VII, Chapter 25A “Export Standards for Grapes and Plums” remains fully funded, thank goodness.

H.R. 83 is the kind of legislation known in Washington as a “CRomnibus.” (Because it’s combination of a Continuing Resolution for short-term sending and an omnibus bill for long-term spending.) And doesn’t “CRomnibus” sound just like a caroling song, in some foreign language, maybe Romanian?

O Cromnibus, O Cromnibus,Tu branchu verde delute noi!

But what I love most about H.R 83, why I think it’s so important for my children to learn it by heart, is how the budget bill captures the whole and entire Holiday Spirit, from naughty to nice. Not just Santa, but Scrooge too.

Sure there’s the charity. And none more charitable than the donation Congress made to itself by increasing the amount individuals can give each year to a political party, from $32,400 to $324,000. But they should watch out if they’re near the chimney on the Night Before Christmas. A stocking stuffed with $324,000 in easily negotiable $20 bills weighs 132 pounds.

Yet there’s also the stinginess that the Holidays bring out in some people—the wealthy relative who sends you crisp new paper currency in a fancy card where the engraved portrait of George Washington shows through the oval in the flap.

Rich skin-flint Uncle Sam is giving military enlisted personnel a 1 percent pay raise.

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Plus there’s the secret stinginess that’s brought out in us all when we read something like, “For necessary expenses to carry out the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act… $21,300,170,000 to remain available through September 30, 2016…”

Broccoli costs $1.80 a pound. Twenty-one-and-a-half million students participate in free or reduced-price school lunch programs. A mere $6,966,000,000 would buy them a pound of broccoli a day for the whole school year, and everybody could shut up about school lunch nutritional standards too.

In the budget, those of us who’ve been good get presents. Californians have been very good, apparently. They get $8 million to dredge the channel for pleasure boats to sail to Catalina Island. What a romantic gift.

Those of us who’ve been not so good get… a policy rider allowing the Export-Import Bank of the United States to fund coal-fired power plants. Stick-fired, too, I’m guessing.

Every child dreams of getting a pony for Christmas. And the budget provides $697,000 to the “Horse Protection Act of 1970.” Of course, since the Act was passed in 1970, those children are now 52. And $697,000 is nothing compared to the $52,340,00 provided for “Avian Health,” although very few children dream of having a chicken to ride. But, on the upside, funding has been cut off for “inspecting horses under Section 3 of the Federal Meat Inspection Act.” Kids can eat grandma’s mincemeat pie again.

How could the holidays be merry and bright without Holiday Lights? To that end, the budget postpones federal phase-out of incandescent electric bulbs. For one more year, at least, the White House Christmas Tree won’t be trimmed in dim, faint LED illumination and look like the instrument display on an automobile dashboard.

Some of the budget’s gifts are lavish indeed—$1,466,000,000 for “Food for Peace.” With a package like that all wrapped in ribbons and bows, there definitely won’t be any war next year.

Some of the gifts are small but clever. A ban on Internet shopping sales tax has been extended until October 1, 2015, which should give even very-last-minute holiday shoppers time to finish their shopping. The clever part is that the present was “re-gifted” from city and state tax revenues.

And some gifts don’t seem to make any sense at all. In a huge Christmas bonus to the banking industry, the Dodd-Frank financial reforms have been rolled back to allow banks to make derivative trades with accounts covered by FDIC insurance. If I’m hearing Elizabeth Warren right, this means evil bankers can do a currency swap going short on the Swiss franc and long on the Ukrainian hryvnia, and, when Russia invades Ukraine again, the evil bankers get their money back from us taxpayers.

Well, the kids have dozed off while I was reading the budget aloud, and It’s a Wonderful Life is on TV. A fantastic movie. But remember “Potter,” the evil banker played by Lionel Barrymore? Maybe I’m just overcome with the holiday spirit, but I love even the Dodd-Frank roll-back part of H.R. 83. Wouldn’t It’s a Wonderful Life be even more wonderful if Potter the evil banker had joined in the Christmas party at the end?