This Week's Omnibus Vote
This week, the FY18 Omnibus Budget was passed and signed by the President. H.R. 1625 is a budget package that funds the federal government through September 30, 2018.
I voted for this Omnibus Budget, despite a number of areas of serious disagreement. Here’s why:
- First and foremost, this budget bill provided the funding needed to rebuild our military to ensure a more adequate state of readiness. This is the greatest increase in military spending in 15 years, and the largest pay raise for our troops in eight years. The U.S. lost four times as many of our military men and women in training accidents in the last year as we did in combat. Our military has been shortchanged for too long. This bill addresses that by investing in our military as requested by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Other important areas of funding include:
- Combatting the Opioid Epidemic. The Opioid epidemic is a national crisis, and the Sixth District is one of the hardest hit communities in the country. Bipartisan cooperation is needed to solve it. This bill provides the largest investment yet - $4 billion - to combat the opioid crisis and address prevention, treatment, and enforcement efforts.
- School Safety. Last week, the House took action, passing the STOP School Violence Act, which provides funding to train students, school officials, and local law enforcement to identify and prevent violence in our schools. This budget bill also reauthorizes the NICS Improvement Act, increasing records submission assistance for states, designed to strengthen and secure the background check system to ensure that those who should not have guns cannot get them.
- Mental Health. This bill provides nearly $1 billion for mental health programs.
- Border Security. Funding for over 100 miles of the border wall is included in the bill. Specifically, the bill provides the President's request of roughly $1.6 billion in funding for border assets and infrastructure. That includes funding for border and port technology and surveillance systems.
- Pro-life. This bill continues all existing pro-life provisions, including the Hyde and Helms Amendments prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars for abortion, and prevents efforts to roll back the administration’s expanded Mexico City policy.
- Cancer Research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will receive $37 billion in funding. This $3 billion increase will fund additional research of cures and treatment for cancer and other major diseases.
- Support for Israel. This bill includes $3.1 billion for the US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding to further strengthen our military alliance with Israel. The budget measure also includes over $700 million for Israeli Missile Defense and anti-tunneling technology and reauthorizes the Taylor Force Act, which has been a priority of mine in Congress. This bill cuts off all assistance to the Palestinian Authority unless it takes credible steps to stop acts of violence and end payments for acts of terrorism
- Infrastructure. H.R. 1625 authorizes $21.2 billion to invest in our nation's outdated infrastructure and help bring our systems into the 21st century. That includes funding for improvements to airports, highways, bridges, and ports across America.
Now, to my areas of strong concern.
I saw first hand just how broken the entire budget process is. The “regular order” process provides that the House pass 12 separate appropriations bills. The House did this - passing all 12 of the required appropriations bills between last July and September. Unfortunately, the Senate was unable to move a single one of these bills - thanks to the Senate rule that requires 60 votes for passage, instead of a simple majority.
This resulted in the need for multiple Continuing Resolutions (CRs) in order to keep the federal government open and key operations, like our military, functional. This also led to the massive Omnibus Budget bill that consolidated all 12 appropriations bills into one 2,000+ page piece of legislation.
I share the concerns that many have expressed to me about increased spending and the looming threat of the nation’s debt. If you’ve followed my career in public office, I have always been a fiscal hawk - cutting spending and balancing the budget at Fulton County and reducing the Secretary of State’s budget by nearly 20 percent.
However, the reality of the current federal process is that it simply does not allow for meaningful program cuts and overhauls. I come away from this more convinced than ever that we must: 1) have a Balanced Budget Amendment to our US Constitution; 2) fundamentally reform the budget process; 3) require zero-based budgeting for every department; and 4) strike the 60-vote rule in the Senate for appropriations and budget bills.
The newly appointed Select Committee on Budget Reform, which includes Georgia Congressman Rob Woodall, along with other House and Senate members from both sides of aisle, is already at work. I am cautiously optimistic that this bi-cameral, bipartisan group will come forward with a reform package that both the House and Senate can take up before the end of the year. Additionally, Speaker Ryan has already committed to bringing a Balanced Budget Amendment bill to the House floor this year.
I realize that some of you may not agree with my vote in support of the Omnibus Budget bill. However, a ‘no’ vote would have done little to nothing to advance the goal of cutting the budget and overhauling the process. If Congress had not passed the budget, the government would shut down again, putting our military at further risk, and left us with an even less palatable budget.
Congress must work to reform the budget process and put the U.S. on the path to fiscal responsibility and solvency, while continuing to fund our nation's critical priorities. Please feel free to call my office in Roswell or Washington with any additional questions or concerns you may have about this bill. Thank you for taking the time to read this note, and for the opportunity to represent you in Congress.
Karen C. Handel
Member of Congress