Thinking Out Loud: Our Take On The Congressional Spending Bill

by | Jan 17, 2014 | Blogs, Insights

Thanks to the team at Oregon Public Broadcasting for inviting Quinn Thomas to join the roundtable on Think Out Loud this week.

We had a great discussion about the $1.1 trillion congressional spending bill that passed earlier this week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s proposal to raise the minimum wage, whether the Columbia River Crossing bridge replacement project will ever get done, and reasons behind Tri-Met’s drop-off in ridership.  That’s a lot to cover, so we spent a good chunk of time on the spending bill.

The general media coverage of the spending bill was disappointing, as always.  We saw a lot of news stories that dramatized the size of the bill – nearly 1600 pages! – and proclaiming that it was written “in only a few days and behind closed doors.”  From where we sit, the public would be better served by a little civics lesson rather than the dramatization of events so many journalists believe is now necessary to grab readers.


The spending bill is not, in fact, “a bill.”  It is a collection of many bills that have been kicking around the appropriations committees in the House and Senate since last fall.  Most have been the subject of hearings at the subcommittee level – if not the full committee.  And, most could be accessed online by anybody with an interest in them.

These bills are typically 95% complete before the end of the process, at which time the leaders get together and strike deals on the funding levels of the most contentious programs and projects.  That’s what occurred over the last week or so in the run-up to the vote.  That is democracy and divided government.  Heck, that’s democracy in un-divided government, as I recall plenty of years when the Bush White House and the all-Republican Congress passed omnibus spending bills – as did the Obama White House and an all-Democrat Congress in 2009-2010.

Much of the attention on the spending bill focused on the media’s amazement that a Republican House of Representatives would pass something so seemingly anathema to their principles: a big, $1 trillion spending bill.  But, from both a substantive and political standpoint there were plenty of reasons to support it.

A few pundits have observed that the lopsided nature of the vote spells trouble for the Tea Party (or, at least, the people writing large checks to enforce their definition of “fiscal conservative”), and I think there’s some truth to that.  Are Republicans in swing seats becoming less concerned with a funded Tea Party primary challenger?

Maybe they haven’t blocked that out of their mind entirely, but the vote did indicate that the Republican leadership thinks that’s a challenge they can overcome.

From that standpoint, the tide has turned.