News

Federal Budget Passes

By: Kris Schneider

On Tuesday, December 16, the White House announced that President Barack Obama signed the federal spending bill for fiscal year 2015, which will fund most of the government through September 2015.  The bill narrowly passed the House and Senate just days before.  Months of bickering and congressional gridlock led to the last minute budget negotiations once again, after last year’s government shutdown brought the federal government to a screeching halt and sent the economy into sixteen days of uncertain instability.  Although the bill was claimed to have been written in a bipartisan committee with agreement on both sides, Republicans and Democrats alike had major issues with the bill, which was introduced on December 9 with generally positive sentiments.  Less than 24 hours later, the press skimmed all 1,600 pages of the bill, and found numerous political issues with the spending bill, which would ultimately lead to a near-shutdown.

The 2015 spending bill, known as the cromnibus, a hybrid word of “Continuing Resolution (CR)” and “Omnibus,” contained politically charged measures that were never debated on the floors of the House nor the Senate, and they were all grouped into this “must pass” bill.  Democrats did not like two measures in particular.  One used congressional power outlined in the Constitution to reverse the public’s vote in the District of Columbia to legalize marijuana. Congress reserves the right to final approval of legislation in our nation’s capital.  The other action scaled back limitations on political contributions to the national party associations, including the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention.  These restrictions were increased tenfold from $32,400 per year to $324,000 per year.  Some members of the GOP did not support the bill because they felt it did not adequately address the President’s recent executive action on immigration.  In a preliminary signal vote in the House, the bill narrowly passed its first hurdle by just a couple votes.  However, after the Obama Administration announced support for the bill, despite its issues, the bill passed by a slightly wider margin in the House.

That evening, the House also passed a temporary spending bill to fund the government until the Senate had a chance to debate the bill and hold a final vote, due to the fact that the House itself passed it with just hours to spare before the deadline.  The Senate passed the bill a few days later, in a rare weekend session.  Both of the United States Senators from New Jersey voted against the bill.  In a speech on the Senate floor before the vote, Senator Cory Booker commented, “This omnibus- this cromnibus, as it’s called, is a jagged, bitter pill for anyone to swallow.”  To close his statement, Mr. Booker stated, “I rebuke the slick and secretive ways that this has been done; and I’ll echo concerns of people all over New Jersey that this kind of ‘business as usual’ must end.” The bill was sent to President Obama, who then signed it the following week.

The 113th Congress, which left office in early January, was the least productive in modern American history.  This Congress has produced less legislation than the infamous “Do Nothing Congress” did during the Truman Administration.  With another budget passed, and the federal government funded until the end of fiscal year 2015, the question remains at the forefront of citizens’ minds: will the next set of lawmakers be able to work together more effectively than they have in the past two years?  The answer remains to be seen, but the GOP is certainly hoping that bipartisan legislation will rise to prominence over the next two years, with party leaders already planning for the 2016 Presidential Election.  Republican lawmakers believe that they must show proper and effective leadership during the 114th Congress, to demonstrate to the American people that, contrary to what citizens saw coming out of Washington recently, Republicans have the power to lead, and they can lead with officials from across the aisle.  In a sense, the passage of the 2015 federal budget was the first demonstration of what Republicans see as a new compromise, albeit with an agenda, to propel American politics forward.  Democrats still hold the title of more socially relevant policy, with the majority of Americans now supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage and marijuana, as well as a woman’s right to choose.  Regarding the issue of the overarching political policy, this battle of the budget was not really about the $1.1 trillion to fund the federal government at all; it was about setting up future political motives on both sides.