Because congressional Republicans don't want to shut down the government again, they have spent the last few weeks negotiating a spending bill to keep the government funded for around a year. The appropriations committees released the details of their plan this week. It is, obviously, mostly terrible, reflecting the priorities of a Republican House and a Senate where Republicans still have a great deal of power to block almost anything they like.
Naturally, the Washington Post's "The Fix" blog turned the bill into an easily digestible list of "winners and losers." This is because for many legislators and politicians and members of the political media, legislating, like everything else in "politics," is a game. I don't mean that they don't take it seriously -- they all take it very seriously -- they just take the "game" part of it -- the "winning and losing" -- seriously, rather than the "how will this affect actual people" part.
But the list is actually a useful analysis of how Congress works, if you read it correctly. Because while some of the items listed are big deals with hefty price tags, much of it is made up of expenses that amount to rounding errors in the federal government budget. And those minor items were the things that many Republicans cared the most about, because they reflect issues highlighted on talk radio and right-wing blogs. It's not just that Republicans betray their supposed preference for less spending whenever the beneficiary of government spending is an industry they support (see: forcing the TSA to hire more private security contractors) -- that's normal political hypocrisy. It's that for Republicans, some of the most important items, the things they were most determined to "win" in negotiations, were talk radio bugaboos representing a minuscule fraction of government spending. This spending bill took a long time to negotiate not just because the two sides have fundamentally different philosophies of government, but because they live in entirely different realities.
And that's why the IRS is now banned from making bad viral videos!
And the agreement requires the agency to provide reports on its spending on training and bonuses. And, in response to those "Star Trek" parody videos, there's no funding "for inappropriate videos."
The government is no longer allowed to order its jackbooted thugs to seize our precious incandescent light bulbs!
The measure bars funding to enforce new light bulb standards that would ban the use of incandescent bulbs. The proposal was first introduced and set in motion by the bush administration, but the Obama White House seized on the issue and allowed the change to continue, despite the sustained consumer demand for older bulbs.
The light bulb crusade is bizarre, but at least it is an issue with some basis in reality. As Chris Hayes pointed out last night, the spending bill also bars the Obama administration from following through on a plan -- a plan that originated in the Bush administration -- to trim costs by moving the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican to a building on the same site as the U.S. Embassy to Italy. On the wingnut Internet, this plan morphed into Obama wanting to close the Embassy to the Vatican as revenge for Catholic opposition to the contraception mandate. The wingnut version made its way up the conservative misinformation chain to Jeb Bush and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The relocated Embassy to the Vatican would be, according to Glenn Kessler, closer to Vatican City than the current one. It would also save a few million dollars a year. Meanwhile, the spending bill also cuts millions in embassy security, because the State Department budget is so bloated, and also #Benghazi.
The Justice Department is now officially banned from doing "Fast and Furious" again, and, more important, the government must admit to stockpiling ammunition in order to keep it out of the hands of patriots:
The legislation restricts the Justice and Homeland Security departments from establishing programs similar to the “Operation Fast and Furious” gun-running program. In response to allegations that the administration has been stockpiling ammunition for use by federal agents, the measure also requires DHS to provide detailed reports on its purchase and use of ammunition.
Do you know where those "allegations" regarding ammo stockpiling came from? InfoWars. Yes, congressional Republicans made damned sure that the omnibus spending bill reflected the concerns of Alex Jones.
Of course, the idea that the government is heavily arming itself and attempting to disarm the American people in preparation for a violent authoritarian crackdown isn't strictly limited to InfoWars. Lou Dobbs introduced the notion on Fox News, and it was featured in a Daily Caller opinion piece that looks to have been deleted. The far-right conspiratorial "fringe" seems so much less fringe-y when its stories so often get repeated by the Caller and people like Jeb Bush.
The spending bill essentially decides what the federal government will choose to do this year. And in order for it to pass, it had to address conspiracy theories from Alex Jones and WorldNetDaily. Hell of a way to run a country.