The omnibus bill to fund government operations through September 2023 is out—all 4,000 pages of it. Despite the measure's massive size and price tag, lawmakers' aim is to rush it through both chambers of Congress by Thursday so President Joe Biden can sign it on Friday.
The text of the $1.7 trillion spending bill was just released by the Senate and House appropriations committees this morning, so everyone's still scrambling to figure out what is in it and what is not. What we do know: Lawmakers are giving all sorts of government agencies and programs way more money than they did in 2022 and more than Biden's budget requested. We also know it's devoid of several good measures discussed as potential add-ons.
Tax Cuts, TikTok, Cannabis Banking, and Electoral Reform
Missing is the SAFE Banking Act, a measure to make it easier for state-licensed marijuana businesses to actually access banks and financial services.
Some tax breaks that had been on the table are also nowhere to be found in the final bill.
The spending bill does contain the Electoral Count Reform Act—an election reform measure that Reason's Eric Boehm describes as "surprisingly logical and bipartisan." The Electoral Count Reform Act would correct for three procedural weaknesses that enabled former President Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election results. Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) has a new op-ed in favor of the Electoral Count Reform Act; here's how he describes it:
The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act is a bipartisan bill designed to ensure that Congress obeys state law. Unless the laws or constitution of a state identify another official to do so, the reformed Electoral Count Act designates the governor to certify the state's presidential electors to prevent different officials from sending competing slates of electors to Congress.
Additionally, the bill makes clear that the Vice President is to play a solely ministerial role in the counting of electoral votes.
The legislation also increases the threshold that would trigger a congressional debate on objections to a state's election results to one-fifth of each the House and Senate, meaning that the transfer of power would not provide an occasion for frivolous challenges.
In other words, this legislation preserves the Founders' intent that the laws and election results of the several states are respected.
Is it weird to burrow these reforms in the omnibus spending bill? Probably. But, for better or worse, that's how Congress gets a lot of things done these days.
As per usual, this year's government funding bill is full of random asides, like a proposal to ban TikTok on federal devices (not to be confused with the bill to ban TikTok entirely) and a retirement-related measure known as the Secure Act 2.0.
As far as actual spending goes, we're looking at $772.5 billion for "non-defense discretionary programs" and $858 billion for defense spending (which we discussed in the Roundup yesterday), per a Senate Appropriations Committee press release.
This includes a $44.9 billion assistance package for Ukraine and NATO allies—slightly more than the amount allotted ($40.6 billion) to help U.S. communities recovering from natural disasters.
The omnibus spending bill also contains $1.8 billion for the CHIPS Act of 2022, which Reason contributor and Mercatus Center Senior Research Fellow Veronique de Rugy calls "corporate welfare disguised as industrial policy."
And there are boatloads of cash going to cops. The bill includes $770.8 million for Byrne–Justice Assistance Grants (JAG), through which the federal government funds state and local police activities. That's $96.3 million more for JAG programs than in 2022. There's also $324 million for the COPS Hiring Program—up 32 percent over 2022 funding.
The FBI is also getting a raise. The 2023 spending bill gives the agency $11.33 billion, which is $569.6 million more than in 2022 and $524 million more than Biden requested. A summary from the House Appropriations Committee says this will help expand efforts to "investigate extremist violence and domestic terrorism." Meanwhile, U.S. attorneys are getting $2.63 billion, "an increase of $212.1 million above fiscal year 2022, including to further support prosecutions related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and domestic terrorism cases."
And don't think immigration cops or cyber cops have been left out. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will get $8.42 billion in 2023—$161.1 million more than in fiscal year 2022 and $319.4 million more than Biden requested. And the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is getting $2.9 billion, up $313.5 million from 2022 levels and $396.4 million more than Biden requested.
Of course, the omnibus bill contains funds for all the standard government programs, including $118.7 billion for veteran medical care, $47.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health, $9.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly $12 billion for Head Start programs, $5 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and $471 million for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
A lot of programs are getting more money in 2023. For instance, the omnibus bill allots $9.3 billion to the Transportation Security Administration, an increase of $836.1 million from fiscal year 2022 funding and hundreds of millions more than Biden requested. It includes $9.9 billion to the National Science Foundation (the "largest dollar increase for NSF of all time and the largest percentage increase for the Foundation in more than two decades," per a highlights document from the Senate Appropriations Committee), $10.135 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency (up $576 million over last year), and $154 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a $13.4 billion increase over last year).
You can find the full text of the bill—officially known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023—here.
Title 42 order termination on hold. The seemingly eternal battle over a public health order used to expel migrants continues. That policy, known as Title 42, was set to expire on December 21. "Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Monday put a temporary hold on the termination of [Title 42]," reports CNN. "But in a brief order Roberts signaled that the court wants to act quickly and asked the Biden administration to respond by 5 p.m. ET Tuesday to an emergency appeal filed by a group of Republican-led states."
In November, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the order. A group of Republican-led states then appealed the decision. Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declined to intervene.
More here from the Volokh Conspiracy.
Can the FTC block technology mergers based on future market predictions? New analysis from Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this magazine) looks at the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) attempt to stop Facebook's parent company Meta from acquiring Within, the company behind the virtual reality fitness app Supernatural. An FTC lawsuit to stop this started on December 8. "The three-week hearing is expected to test the FTC's argument that potential future concentration in the still-developing market for virtual reality fitness applications is enough to stall the merger of Meta and Within," notes Senior Policy Analyst Max Gulker. And the implications go way beyond Meta and Within:
Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan, tapped by President Joe Biden to lead the agency last year, hopes to preside over the most significant change of course for U.S. antitrust policy in decades. She and others belonging to the New Brandeisian school of antitrust advocate a more aggressive stance toward mergers than has been seen in decades. This advocacy is making the FTC's case against Meta a case to watch as it may offer a preview of the FTC's new strategy, as well as its potential success in court.
When Facebook rebranded as Meta in Oct. 2021, the company signaled a change in its strategic outlook. Meta began investing heavily in virtual reality (VR) technology, which is expected by many to grow rapidly over the next decade. Today, Meta has already entered markets for VR hardware, social platforms, and games. As part of that strategy, Meta announced last year that it would acquire Within, developers of the VR fitness app Supernatural, for $400 million. A large tech company acquiring a niche startup in a nascent, fast-developing market is not an unusual event. Along with fitting Meta's strategy, startups like Within often consider such buyouts successful outcomes of their entrepreneurial ventures.
But the FTC says Meta should make its own fitness app, in order to "increase consumer choice, increase innovation, spur additional competition to attract the best employees, and yield other competitive benefits" while avoiding "dampening future innovation and competitive rivalry."
The FTC's theory of harm here "departs significantly from the consumer welfare standard, which Khan and fellow advocates of antitrust reform blame for a more permissive stance on mergers in the past several decades," notes Gulker. More here. (See also: "The Bipartisan Antitrust Crusade Against Big Tech."
BREAKING: Jurors have found Harvey Weinstein guilty of of rape at a Los Angeles trial in the latest moment of #MeToo reckoning.
Weinstein will now have a California prison sentence added to the more than 20 years he has left to serve in New York. https://t.co/Q3QBTXx9FA
— The Associated Press (@AP) December 19, 2022
• The FBI paid Twitter $3.4 million to cover the costs of processing its requests.
• At the Turning Point USA conference, young conservatives' talk of Trump "has centered on his legacy, rather than anticipation about his political future," says Politico.
• Seriously? "The Department of Homeland Security inadvertently tipped off the Cuban government this month that some of the immigrants the agency sought to deport to the island nation had asked the U.S. for protection from persecution or torture," reports the Los Angeles Times.
• A majority of people voting in Elon Musk's Twitter poll say he should step down as head of the company:
Should I step down as head of Twitter? I will abide by the results of this poll.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 18, 2022
• A new bill in California (Senate Bill 58) would decriminalize certain psychedelic drugs, including psilocybin, psilocyn, Dimethyltryptamine, mescaline (excluding peyote), and ibogaine.
• "Rikers Island has logged its 19th prisoner death in 2022 as the end of the year approaches, but a judge is still resisting efforts to turn the jail complex over to federal control," reports Reason's Scott Shackford.
• "A federal judge has blocked a California gun law that emulated a controversial Texas abortion measure — and which was intended to provoke a court fight," notes Politico.