12.21.15

BLOG: Why I Voted For The Omnibus Spending & Tax Relief Bill

Last week, Congress passed a spending bill that funds the federal government for the Fiscal Year, which ends September 30, 2016. The total cost of the omnibus bill was $1.1 trillion. For context, the entire annual federal budget is almost $4 trillion. The Omnibus was a collection of 13 bills, all compiled into one giant bill. The House of Representatives had the luxury of voting separately on several of the appropriations bills, But in the Senate, most of the bills were filibustered by the Democrats so they could not even come to the floor for debate. Last week, the House also had the luxury of voting separately for the tax reform bill (which passed with almost unanimous Republican support because of the positive tax changes), along with the omnibus bill, which split the Republican conference. In the Senate, both bills were combined; so a Senator could not support the tax bill, without also supporting the Omnibus bill.  

You can read the full bill by CLICKING HERE

I authored a ‘Federal Fumbles’ waste report a few weeks ago that identified $105 billion in federal government waste because I want to provide solutions to the federal debt, not just complaints. I’m pleased that some of the issues raised in my Federal Fumbles report were addressed in this omnibus spending and tax relief bill, but we still have a long way to go. In fact, our nation’s federal debt is now a ridiculous $19 Trillion. This hurts our families and the potential growth of our economy.  

To solve our debt problem, we must reduce spending and grow the economy. You cannot cut enough to solve our debt crisis. If we cut our budget until we had a $50 billion surplus each year, we would have to maintain that $50 billion surplus for 460 years in a row to pay off our debt. That is not realistic. The Obama White House wants to raise taxes and increase spending, but I believe we should increase economic growth (jobs) and reduce spending. Our most recent GDP growth rate was a measly 2.1%. Remember, the GDP growth for the first quarter of this year was a paltry 0.6%. America’s economic growth and recovery under President Obama has been an incredibly underwhelming average of only 2.2%. Compare that to the average quarterly GDP growth rate under Ronald Reagan of 4.8%. We must not accept 2.2% GDP growth as the new normal.  

Many people have contacted me in the past few days both for and against the tax reform and omnibus bill.  For all of those who disagreed with the bill, I would tell you I agree with your concerns. There were many things I opposed in the bill and there were many areas of reform left on the table when the negotiations concluded. But, there were also many areas of reform and economic growth in the bills that will help get the government out of the way so the private sector can grow the economy, which will help pay down our debt. 

Here are just a few examples

Lifting the Ban on Oil Exports – Fox News’ Brit Hume said it best when he said, “lifting the oil export ban is a big deal.” Lifting this absurd 40-year ban on exporting our oil is a major boost to our national economy, and an even greater lift to the Oklahoma economy. That is why I have worked on this for years. Lifting this ban will lead to private sector creation of up to 1 million jobs and could increase our GDP growth by as much as $170 billion annually. The energy sector has tremendous potential for growth, but it must be unleashed from barriers caused by unnecessary regulations from this Obama White House.  This Administration has been obsessed with limiting the growth of fossil fuels and this was a rare moment to force them to accept what most of America sees clearly.      

Obamacare Reforms – This Omnibus spending and tax relief bill defunds the Obamacare Independent Payment Advisory Board, suspends the medical device tax, delays the “Cadillac” tax on high-cost health insurance policies, and delays the Health Insurance Tax. Obamacare is a drain on the economy; any relief of this horrible law is helpful for small business growth.  

Small Business Investment – The Omnibus spending and tax relief bill makes Section 179 of the IRS Tax Code permanent, which allows small businesses to expense up to $500,000 per year for big investments, such as machinery, equipment, technology and other capital upgrades. By making this permanent, small businesses are given the long-term certainty they need to plan, invest in their business, take risks, and hire more people. 

Veterans and Military - The bill includes increased support to eliminate the Department of Veterans Affairs disability backlog and the bill guarantees whistleblower protections for Veterans Affairs medical staff to ensure our Veterans receive the services they deserve. This bill also gives our military a surge in funding for re-supply and training, along with a well-deserved pay increase.

The bill includes several small improvements for the Social Security Disability Insurance program that I have advocated for several years. This bill also prohibits the President from giving away the management of the internet to a foreign body, and he is prohibited from moving terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the United States. 

This bill was also supported by the Oklahoma Fraternal Order of Police, Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Small Business Association (NFIB), Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association, and Oklahoma Agribusiness Retailers Association, among others. 

Some have questioned how Planned Parenthood plays into this budget deal. The vast majority of Planned Parenthood’s funding comes from mandatory spending, not discretionary, which is what Congress budgets each year. The alternative to this Omnibus spending bill is a government shutdown, which would stop discretionary funding. This is why a government shutdown would not defund Planned Parenthood, since about 86% of their funding comes from mandatory federal funding, not discretionary funding. The only way to fully defund Planned Parenthood is to pass legislation to prohibit mandatory spending from being used for Planned Parenthood. I introduced legislation to do this, along with Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), in July. The vote came up 5 votes short of the 60-vote threshold, but we have continued the fight. We tried again earlier this month with a 50-vote threshold budget reconciliation bill, and we were successful! Not only did we pass this legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, but the bill repealed much of Obamacare through budget reconciliation. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on this in January. The fight to defund Planned Parenthood is not over! 

This omnibus spending and tax relief bill did have some important pro-life legislation in it though. It includes a ban on federal funds for abortions and a ban on FDA approval for genetically modifying human embryos. I am a staunch advocate for life, and I will continue fighting for the lives of unborn children and against the expiramentation of embryos.

Immigration and Syrian Refugees – I have personally met with leadership in the State Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to discuss changes in the movement of refugees into the United States and the risks we all face. This bill prohibits individuals from Syria and Iraq from immigrating to the U.S. through the regular visa process. Real oversight and clear language is the only way to make sure this White House actually listens to the American people. I have been very clear that we should not move any refugees into the United States until we have positive identification and absolute certainity about their background. The current standard is a lack of bad information on file, but that does not assure me or most other Oklahomans. This is a standard I will continue to fight for and provide the oversight to enforce it.  

I have voted against many bills this year and pushed the leadership of the Senate to confront the arcane Senate rules that keep bills off the floor and out of the sight of the American people. In the next two months, a small group of us will publicly propose major recommendations for process reforms to the Senate. We must make the process more transparent.  

The Omnibus bill was a difficult vote because it included many good provisions that help our nation and everyday Oklahomans and it included many areas I oppose. I respect people on both sides of this bill, because they are both right. But, at the end of the day, I had to pick only one side. I will continue my work on reform and spending reduction one step at a time. This year, we have cut $12 billion from the annual deficit. Five years ago, the single year deficit was $1.4 trillion, now it is $450 billion a year. While that is still far out of balance, it shows that even under this President, we can make steps of progress on the deficit. I hope to work in the days ahead with a White House that agrees that the debt is a problem and they will work with Congress to get our nation back on track. Until then, I will fight for any progress that I can find for the people of our nation and our state. 

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By:  Senator James Lankford