While we debated torture, the cromnibus crawled forward

Working late into the night while the media was completely engulfed by the torture report, Congress finished tidying up the massive cromnibus bill. The total came in at $1.01 trillion, because it is apparently impossible to conceive of a number lower than one trillion anymore.

The legislation is expected to pass in the coming days and will allow the incoming Republican-controlled Congress to clear the decks of lingering spending issues while setting the stage for a prolonged fight with President Obama over immigration policy.

At 1,603 pages, the bill includes at least $1.2 billion for agencies to deal with the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. There’s also money to fight the rise of the Islamic State and $5.4 billion to fight the threat of Ebola. But there are also significant changes to campaign finance laws and potential cuts to retiree pension plans. Democrats were cheering bigger budgets for enforcement at agencies created after the 2008 economic collapse.

I suppose if there’s a bright side to all of this, it’s that everyone seems to hate it. That’s generally a sign that neither party got everything they wanted. (Yes, I know… as bright sides go that’s fairly weak tea.) But there is an important feature of the cromnibus which I believe the GOP deserves credit for on two fronts. First of all, it’s a spending bill which funds the entire government – such as it is – into the next session and almost all of it for a year. If this thing gets signed off and sent to the President’s desk, then the only way the government gets shut down is if Barack Obama vetoes it. If he wants to be the cause of that happening, best of luck to him.

Second, it does what seems to be all that could be managed on executive amnesty. While the rest of the departments are funded for a year, Homeland Security is only kept going until the end of February. This will give the new Republican majority several weeks to address the amnesty question, setting up a serious battle with the President without giving the Democrats ammunition by claiming that the GOP burned down the house.

Of course, not everyone is on board with this plan. Our Redstate colleague Erick Erickson wants the members to use a procedural rule to shut the cromnibus down cold.

The House of Representatives is a large body with diverse opinions. Without structure, nothing could get done. In order to both have debate and amendments while also not dragging processes on forever, legislation brought to the floor of the House of Representatives is accompanied by a rule.

That rule sets out the parameters for debate, timeframe for debate, and amendments to the underlying legislation. Legislation rarely goes to the floor of the House of Representatives without a rule. Killing the rule, which is voted on before the legislation, kills the underlying legislation…

Call your congressman today and tell him to oppose not just the continuing resolution, but the rule as well. Defeating the rule is key and far too many members of congress put party loyalty ahead of the nation when it comes to supporting these rules.

While I understand the frustration underlying such sentiments leading to more of a Let It Burn philosophy, obviously I can’t agree with it. Erick claims that the bill will fund President Obama’s unconstitutional amnesty. It’s a true statement, but it’s missing a key modifier, in that it will fund it for roughly seventy days. That’s not good, but it’s not forever. What comes out of the debate in January and February, and how that fight is handled is far more important. Will there be damage done in that seventy days? No doubt. But it seems as if that damage can be contained and perhaps reversed once the issue is isolated from the rest of the budget and scrutinized on its own merits.

I realize that a common argument making the rounds is that shutting the government down last time “didn’t hurt us because look at how the election turned out.” We need to remember that the public generally has the attention span of a fruit fly. GOP popularity plummeted following the last shutdown. What turned that around was not some national awakening and a feeling that turning out the lights was a brilliant plan. It was the fact that the news cycle became swamped with a flood of other stories, leading with ISIS and Ebola. Slightly older wounds were largely forgotten.

I still maintain that one of the greatest weapons in the political arsenal this year is the ability to either not shut down the government or make the other guy do it. That tool was used against the GOP before. It’s currently poised to be aimed at the White House. Turning the barrel around towards ourselves yet again for no reason would be the definition of political suicide. This bill is far from perfect, but it takes that self-immolating feature off the table and allows the executive amnesty issue to be tackled on its own in relatively short order.