RICH KIPER: Christmas tree ornaments

Rich Kiper/Leavenworth
Rich Kiper

The U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 7, clause 1 reads “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.”

In other words, the power of the purse resides in the House of Representatives. The result is that the majority party in the House controls what spending makes its way into a bill, to include seeding the bill with what are known in Congress as “Christmas tree” ornaments. The minority has little to no input.

Christmas ornaments are those provisions that are unrelated to the intent or even title of a bill and are usually hung on the tree for special interest groups. The more “must fund” bills, such as the National Defense Authorization Act, bills to fund the government or a coronavirus stimulus package, the more ornaments that can be hung on the tree. If not passed, a government shutdown can result. 

An added bonus for the party that controls the House is that, without mentioning the unrelated ornaments in the legislation, the members can blame the minority party for refusing to fund critical bills. 

Regarding COVID-19 stimulus bills, the Republican-controlled Senate balked at Christmas tree ornaments inserted by the Democratic-led House. While the CARES Act had many good provisions, Republicans objected to the lack of oversight to ensure that funding actually protected jobs and families. The Senate finally passed the bill and President Trump signed it into law March 7 with its flaws because it was imperative that money go to help people who were hurting.

The HEROES Act that followed faced the same difficulties. While it also had needed provisions, Republicans saw it laden with a “grab bag of Democrat/Socialist priorities.” What was labeled as a bill to help workers included provisions such as Ensuring Diversity in Community Banking, a “No Hate Act,” Measuring Real Income Growth Act, Wildlife-Borne Disease Prevention Act and mandating national vote by mail. 

Nevertheless, for months Democrats have pilloried the Republican Senate and President Trump for not signing the COVID relief and omnibus spending bills. The 5,593-page. $2.4T bill contains $900B for COVID relief and $1.4T for other government spending. It provides $25M for additional House salaries, $25M for Pakistan gender programs, $85M to Cambodia, $799M to Sudan, $135M to Burma and $130M to Nepal.

Republican senators and President Trump objected to provisions that favored cities and states that have mismanaged their budgets. Calculating the amounts of those debts is complicated. A significant factor is that at least $4.1T in retirement pensions are unfunded liabilities. Another issue is why should states with rainy day funds have their taxpayers’ money go to states without such funds?  

Among other spending that the Democratic House supported was $300M for the Endowment for the Arts, $300M for the Endowment for the Humanities, $500M for museums and libraries, $25M for Capitol cleaning, $40M for the Kennedy Center, $7M for reef fish management, $25 million to combat Asian carp, $2.5 million to count the number of Amber Jack fish in the Gulf of Mexico, a provision to promote the breeding of fish in federal hatcheries, $3 million in poultry production technology, $2 million to research the impact of downed trees and $2.4B for race car tracks.

Both parties supported payments of $2,000 rather than $600, but Democrats would not support cutting the ornaments to help Americans in need.

On Jan. 3, President Trump signed the bill, ornaments and all. It was either that or have hurting Americans be even worse off.

Could a bill have been passed sooner in order to get funds to people who were desperate? The answer is yes. Democrat Speaker Pelosi rejected similar proposals by charging that there was not enough money in the bills. Yet, the House passed a bill that had less money than those ones previously proposed. 

Why did she refuse to allow previous attempts to go forward? The answer is naked, ugly, power-centered politics. The priority is not to give Trump a victory rather than give the people needed relief. In her own words she said: “That is a total game-changer: a new president and a vaccine.”

The Democrat leader made a cold-blooded “decision” (her word) to take a chance that Biden would win and all credit for relief would abound to the Democrats. 

Pelosi and the Democrats have mastered the art of hanging ornaments and dirty politics.

Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.