Friday, January 24, 2014

The Omnibus Bill, Crony Capitalism and Drug Tests

In the newly proposed farm bill, the GOP House voted to allow states to conduct drug tests for people on food stamps. (In Texas, the GOP wanted to drug test for unemployment benefits too, with supporters saying taxpayers should not be subsidizing drug use or helping to supply money to drug dealers.)

There are no provisions in the newly proposed farm bill to make farmers (or those who receive farm subsidies) take drug tests. Several members of Congress are themselves recipients of farm subsidies, including Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the drug testing amendment.

Among other things, the GOP said they were concerned with the national debt—so, speaking of the national debt...

When Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a Veterans Affairs bill to preserve military pensions, he said he was open to paying for the measure (about $3 billion a year) with savings from winding down Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), formerly known as the global war on terror.

But the national budget that was recently passed—the Omnibus bill—has a vast majority of military pension cuts that still remain. But yet, the spending bill also includes $5 billion more for military aircraft and weapons in the OCO budget. The proposed war-funding hike would swell the OCO account over the previous year's level for the first time since 2010.

Companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Bell will benefit. (No "offsetting cuts" were required in the bill, and the CEOs of these companies weren't required to take drug tests before receiving no-bid contracts or hiking their annual salaries with stock-option grants—nor were they prevented from offshoring jobs and getting bogus parts in return.)

Within the State Department’s budget in OCO, the migration and refugee assistance account will also grow over $3 billion—and it shows the extra latitude House Republicans will allow to help the Pentagon. (No "offsetting cuts" were required, and might help the tech industry in processing more H-1B visas to displace more American workers with foreigners who are willing to work for less pay.)

The OCO account in the defense budget, which is supposed to cover costs arising from Afghanistan, Iraq and other foreign operations, has been turned into a $10.8 billion “War Pretext Slush Fund,” according to Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Project on Government Oversight. (Read the entire breakdown with details here).

The conservative Heritage Foundation warned that this spending bill (the national budget—or Omnibus bill) is guaranteed to include pork projects, ineffective government programs, and giveaways for corporate cronies. (They have posted the 1,582-page spending bill that will fund the entire federal government for FY 2014.)

Although, the liberal American Progress has found some good in the 2014 budget; the Huffington Post writes:

"The practice of earmarking -- that is, steering federal dollars to specific projects or companies -- might be officially banned in Congress, but within hours of the release of the 2,000-page omnibus budget bill Monday night, lawmakers from both parties were practically tripping over each other in a race to tell their constituents about the special funding they'd secured for projects in their home states."

If the GOP is so concerned about the national debt, maybe they should just drug test themselves. But a national budget is one thing, and a debt ceiling is another. From Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner:

"The speaker has said that we should not default on our debt, or even get close to it, but a 'clean' debt limit increase simply won’t pass in the House. We hope and expect the White House will work with us on a timely, fiscally responsible solution."

This most likely means something like "offsetting cuts" for food stamps in the farm bill, to give the union-busting and tax-dodging Boeing another juicy government contract.

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