Cromnibus: Bad, But Not as Bad as You Might Think

The US Senate passed the US$1.1 trillion Cromnibus Bill, narrowly avoiding another government shutdown.
The US Senate passed the US$1.1 trillion Cromnibus Bill, narrowly avoiding another government shutdown. (Flickr)

EspañolOn Saturday, the Senate passed the so-called Cromnibus Bill, a combination of a “continuing resolution” and an “omnibus” spending bill. In short, these bills are used to simplify the politics of funding the government down to a single “yes or no” vote on spending measures. Such bills are often long and unwieldy, built by legislators without prior spending committee approval and filled with “riders” — unrelated provisions attached to legislation.

The bill will spend roughly US$1.1 trillion to keep the government funded, for the most part, for another year. So what is hidden in the 1,603 pages of the Cromnibus? A number of things: some of them bad, others worse, but there are a few positives in the bill that are worth noting.

First, and probably the most prominent negative feature of the bill, is its attempt to squash cannabis legalization passed in the District of Colombia. The bill prohibits the city from using tax dollars of any kind — even those raised locally — from being used to “enact any law, rule, or regulation” to legalize cannabis. This provision, brought on by legalization-opponent Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), has put the implementation of Initiative 71 on hold, even though the measure passed with 70 percent support at the ballot box in November.

Then there are a number of provisions that could be considered wins for both parties, despite being relatively minor adjustments overall. The bill removes regulations that effectively decreased the number of hours long-haul truck drivers were able to work in a given week. There were also some tweaks to some marginally important banking regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Internal Revenue Service had their budgets reduced, although the former was still granted a larger budget than what the president requested. The bill also contains $5.4 billion to fight Ebola, and a few billion dollars in aid to countries such as Israel and Jordan. It also puts to rest the US Postal Service’s perennial plan to end Saturday mail delivery.

Cromnibus relaxes the sodium content standards in school lunches, and even addresses endangered species issues, banning the protection of the sage grouse under on the endangered species list. Finally, it authorized more spending for military operations against the Islamic State. Omnibus bills are notorious for their massive size and wide-ranging nature, and this one fits the mold perfectly.

Many of these provisions are simply addressing minor points that have flared up recently. Students have been demanding relaxed school lunch guidelines since they were initially put in place. Calls from ranchers and oil and gas drillers about the sage grouse have gone on for years. Expect these legislative adjustments to appease some of the groups that have been causing headaches for politicians, but that’s about it.

In aggregate, these measures offset for the most part; there are some minor positives, and minor negatives, but the legislation could easily have been worse. It’s not all bad news though. The bill had some genuinely good features, including the protection of state law regarding marijuana legalization.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) successfully attached a rider which prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal funds to “prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana” in states that have already passed such legislation.

This effectively ends the periodic DOJ raids that have plagued medical-marijuana states, introducing legal uncertainty to state businesses, caregivers, and patients. While this is a small victory, the value that this provision will create can easily make up for at least some of the negatives in such a massive spending bill.

In a day and age when partisan bickering is all the rage, omnibus bills are one place where real compromise between the major parties occurs in Washington. This is done out of necessity, since both parties have an interest in keeping the government running, and will use large, complex, opaque bills to make that happen.

For a 1,603-page bill, there is surprisingly little of importance, and that is by design. The opacity and complexity hide a heap of tiny provisions that have little national consequence. In a Washington where the only consensus is “keep the government open,” we should be happy that the bill is not worse than it is.

Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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