What Fact Checkers Got Wrong with the Omnibus Bill

3D render of keys on a computer keyboard with one red key labled for fact checking.

From time to time I write a column that hits a nerve and elicits what can only be described as a massive response. My column last week, Bread and Circuses, was just such a column.

In general, people took umbrage with two points: that the pork spending I mentioned in the article was not part of the COVID-19 Relief package and that Senator Shaheen did not deserve to be singled out. I will clarify why my position is correct, not from a “certain perspective,” but from a keen observation of how the final product was created and how it was presented to the American people. Perception is reality, even if a simpler route is to clarify a very complicated process.

Additionally, some of our readers pointed me to “fact checking” articles related to the pork spending. Frankly, the fact checkers are doing a great disservice to the American people in the manner in which they are presenting their fact checking in this matter. The Omnibus spending bill was an amalgamation of at least 12 other spending bills that were meant to fund existing programs, but in some cases provided new funding for new programs, which is how pork spending creeps into most spending bills. The COVID-19 relief spending became the 13th spending element added to the FY 2021 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

The moment our representatives combined the bills, to the American public it became the COVID-19 bill. Even though the bulk of the spending was designated for spending elsewhere, and in many cases that elsewhere was beyond the borders of the United States.

After the 2018 Omnibus debacle, Congress was warned not to create a massive spending bill, especially as they often do, behind closed doors. Congress was also put on notice not to deliver any major spending bill at the last moment.

In fact the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 clearly defined that congress “shall also work together to reach bicameral and bipartisan agreement on the orderly and timely consideration of FY 2021 appropriations bills to avoid a government shutdown.” By combining the 13 spending bills into one, they broke that agreement, especially when you consider that once again, they (Congress) created an all-or-nothing mandate and did so by using a process that lacked transparency.

Politicians and the media presented the process and the bill in this manner, infusing one-piece of legislation with another. Very few news outlets distinguished between all the bills that were brought together to create the final product, the FY 2021 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Here are some examples of the news headlines:

NPR: “Trump Signs Coronavirus Relief and Spending Bill “

AP: Highlights of COVID 19 – Government Funding Law (that’s confusing)

ABC: Senate and House pass COVID19 relief bill (the story then describe the 2021 Omnibus Appropriations Bill featuring COVID19 relief spending)

JDSUPRA: Bipartisan – Bicameral Omnibus COVID Relief Bill

CNN: President Donald Trump signed the massive $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding bill into law.

Do you see what happened? This massive bill, consisting of 13 other bills (which included the original COVID19 relief bill) became the COVID19 Relief AND Spending Bill, and often just the COVID19 Stimulus Bill; not its official name, but the moniker used by the media, politicians, and the public at large.

Our politicians and the media deliberately conflated the two bills, believing it would reduce or eliminate resistance, not for COVID19 spending, but for wasteful spending which was contained in the other 12 bills.

Many of the people who contacted me smartly detached the bills to explain their difference before the merger, which is why all the spending bills should have remained separate.

I did not deceive our readers. Our representatives in DC and the media managed to do that on their own. The choice was made for us when Congress merged the bills.

Congress chose to carry through with a confusing and non-transparent process, a process Congress pledged to avoid when they passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019.

There is little doubt some wanted the bills to be combined so that the wasteful spending would be masked by the urgent COVID19 relief need. I have written numerous articles about our budgets and our nation’s propensity for wasteful spending. None of this pork spending surprised me, but for many Americans this was the first time they truly understood the impact of pork spending.

If you take out your calculator you will see that the COVID19 provisions had the ‘smaller’ spending components compared to the overall spending earmarked for non-essential foreign spending. Thousands of businesses have closed, people can’t afford to pay rent, workers have been furloughed or laid off in the millions, and whole industries are being decimated. As I said in my last column, all foreign spending should have been suspended.

Now, my reasons for calling out Sen. Shaheen were simple.

First, I write for a NH publication, and should attempt to illuminate the local connection to the story.

Second, Sen. Shaheen played a leadership role in creating the final product (FY 2021 Omnibus Appropriations Bill). She was actively involved in the day-to-day events that produced the final bill.

And lastly, in praising this bill, Sen. Shaheen is putting her stamp of approval on a spending bill that gave more money to non-essential foreign programs than to direct COVID19 relief for the American people. According to Yelp.com’s Local Economic Impact Report, approximately 98,000 businesses have permanently shut down. In a time of crisis, at a time when Americans need help, to believe that spending $193 million to buy new cars for federal aid workers stationed abroad, $700 million for Sudan, $10 million for gender programs in Pakistan, etc., is not only imprudent, but disrespectful to the American people.

In the end, the point is not whether the outrageous spending was in the original COVID19 relief bill or contained in one of the other 12 spending bills. The point is that our representatives are spending more money on foreign programs than on immediate COVID19 relief for our neighbors.

I understand that there was some good in the original COVID19 Relief bill, but the moment they merged all the bills into one bill, everything good was tainted and overwhelmed by all of the obscene spending that siphoned relief funds away from the American people.

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