“Omnibus” in legislative parlance means legislation combining multiple laws and resolutions packaged for a single round of voting. Congress last week created a lower level of meaning for the term.
It managed to wrap into one foul-smelling package every negative cliche you’ve ever heard about the democratic process, such as:
▪ Like sausage, it’s better not to see laws being made.
▪ Governing is too big and important to be left to politicians.
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▪ An honest politician is one who will stay bought.
▪ Politics is a conflict of interests masquerading as a conflict of principles.
▪ And, of course, the one about strange bedfellows.
The $1.1 trillion bill became an omnibus of intellectual dishonesty, hidden agendas and philosophical sellouts. Is that compromise or merely accommodation?
If the issue to be resolved had been a groundbreaking one, such as real tax reform or perfecting the Affordable Care Act’s shortcomings, one could try to ignore the stench and praise it as meaningful compromise, something missing for too many years.
But all the tugging and hauling, rants and accusations, backbiting and betrayal that filled the week right into the weekend was about just keeping the government open through September 2015, for goodness sake. How hard should that be?
In fairness, it must be noted that the omnibus also dealt with a few issues other than fiscal-year spending:
▪ Prohibiting the government from listing the sage grouse as endangered.
▪ Prohibiting a salary increase for Vice President Joe Biden.
▪ Requiring the administration to include white potatoes in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.
▪ And, you know, other pressing global concerns.
The numbers on passage of the bill, as typical of congressional votes, don’t necessarily reflect the pure sentiment of those casting them. For the Congressional Record, when one votes can be almost as important as how one votes. During recorded votes, once the critical number is reached to approve or kill a bill, the members who haven’t voted yet rush to rig their records to reflect what is most politically advantageous to them, not necessarily what they hoped would happen.
For Kansans, these votes create some puzzlement. The Senate record shows that Republicans Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran split: Roberts for it, Moran a “no.” Did Roberts lose the coin toss to see who went first?
The record in the House shows that two Kansas Republicans voted against it, two for it; but, again, it doesn’t show whether they voted before or after passage was assured.
And Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, one of the “no” votes, created further mystery by issuing a statement blaming Democrats for the bill. The final tally was 139 Democrats voting “no” and 57 “yes” while the Republican votes were 67 “no” and 162 “yes.”
After the votes, we heard some traditional rhetoric of compromise: by its nature it means not everybody gets everything they want; that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good, etc., etc.
But this omnibus, short-term legislation was no triumph of compromise, no recovery of the holy grail of democratic governing. We have not turned a corner; we have merely kept government open for another few months.
Americans keep saying we love compromise and hate gridlock, but we keep voting into office people who don’t understand the worth of one and the danger of the other.
Davis Merritt, a Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at email@example.com.