Peter Friedmann’s View from Washington DC. December 2018

December 18, 2018

While the media is full of stories of “the Wall” and speculation of what the incoming House Democratic Majority is going to have in store for Pres. Trump when they take office next year (investigation and impeachment), most Members of Congress and virtually everybody else on the ground here in DC, are focused on more practical aspects of governance.

First, will there be a government shutdown? Perhaps too glib, but, who cares? It would be nothing new; we all manage to survive these, every few years. It’s more about the threat of political blowback by the public, rather than the actual cessation of government services. Critical government services continue unabated. Social Security checks go out, the military remains funded, Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, food stamps, continue. Finally, “non-essential” federal employees who are told not to come into work, know they will get fully paid once the shutdown is resolved.

Second, will there be a Continuing Resolution, funding the government for the next few months or even full year at exactly the same levels as in the current FY 2018? Or will Congress finally pass appropriations bills, with policy “riders”? These riders are already on the appropriations bills which haven’t been able to complete the entire legislative process. But whether a short term funding bill, or long term, one way or another the government will be funded

So, what is really new? The return of earmarks. Earmarks went away at the beginning of Pres. Obama’s term, criticized as “pork-barrel” spending on favorite projects of individual Members of Congress. But by taking specific spending direction out of the hands of Congress, the selection of ‘deserving’ projects was left to the executive branch, meaning, the President. No one doubts that while Congressional earmarks were politically motivated, that presidential spending is equally politically motivated. With the exception of the most conservative House Republicans, most members of Congress pined for earmarks. Now, with those particular voices in the Minority, the new Democratic Majority in the House, and the Republican Majority in the Senate, could very well reinstitute “earmarks”.

Yes, lobbyists will like it, but that’s because their clients --the cities, counties, states, port authorities, transit agencies, infrastructure projects, social welfare organizations -- will benefit by our elected representatives directing funding, rather than leaving it to the White House political office or unelected bureaucrats in the federal agencies.

This may be the key to passage, at long last, of a comprehensive infrastructure program.

Stay tuned there’s going to be a lot more going on than impeachment and investigations.

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