Jumping On The Cromnibus

Yes, apparently that's a new word now: "cromnibus." Now, some, editorially-speaking, have been insisting on "CRomnibus" or "Cromnibus," but for the time being here, we've decided that it doesn't qualify for proper-name status in any way.

[I should interrupt this perhaps-less-than-fascinating pedantry for a quick message for those of you who were expecting something a little more Thanksgiving-ey today. While I have in years past occasionally devoted the Wednesday-Before-Turkey-Day to such holiday-appropriate columns, it's never been a hard and fast rule here. But I don't want to disappoint, so for traditionalists, here is the funniest Thanksgiving column of all time, from Art Buchwald. If that isn't enough, for dessert you could read the lyrics to "Alice's Restaurant," the best Thanksgiving song ever written, by the incomparable Arlo Guthrie. That's enough Thanksgiving for all, so let's get back to splitting editorial hairs, shall we?]

Where was I? Oh, right, riding the cromnibus. For those of you who have been doing other things today, such as travelling homewards, there's a new term in Washington. It is a mashup of "continuing resolution" (often referred to by wonky Washingtonians as a "c.r.") and "omnibus." Put them together, and you get a cromnibus. We have to interrupt this etymological discussion about the term once again, though, to explain why it was created at this particular moment in time.

Ever since their triumphant midterm election, Republicans have kept fairly quiet. They are huddling up behind the scenes and out of the public eye in order to figure out what their next steps as a party should be. President Obama did not go into the expected fetal crouch after the election, and his newfound boldness has knocked Republicans off their game quite a bit.

Part of this is the ongoing civil war between the Tea Partiers and the Establishment Republicans. An interesting battlefront just opened up in this conflict, with Mike Enzi challenging Jeff Sessions for the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee. Enzi is preferred by the Establishment wing because he's seen as less of a bomb-thrower than Sessions. Enzi has more seniority than Sessions because (you can't make this stuff up) his name was drawn from a hat first, a while back.

Meanwhile, President Obama is not only feeling pretty good, he's cracking jokes about his recent executive action on immigration (while pardoning the turkeys, Obama quipped the pardons would be the "most talked about executive action this month."). He's also issued a strong veto threat for a tax bill, getting out in front of the issue by defending the working class.

Republicans are struggling to figure out how to react to Obama's recent moves. The Tea Party wants a big budget showdown, and they'd prefer it happen sooner rather than later. The Establishment wants a budget extension (an omnibus bill) that would fund the federal government through the end of September, and then to have budget discussions throughout all of next year, without the threat of a government shutdown hanging over everyone's heads like a Sword of Damocles.

This all has to be resolved in some fashion by the 11th of December, when the current funding runs out. Republicans can't figure out how to express their anger at Obama's new immigration policy without also appearing to be unable to govern at all. That last part worries the leadership more than the Tea Party, of course.

There were originally three options the Republicans were considering. The first would be to just let the Tea Party tail wag the Republican Party dog, and shut down the government in the middle of the Christmas shopping season. Have the big fight now, rather than putting it off. The second option would be to pass a continuing resolution and punt the budget problem to the next Congress. Pass an extension of three or four months, and let the new guys have the fight, because they earned it by getting elected. The third option was to pass a full omnibus bill that funded the government through the end of the federal fiscal year, and then fight all next year over the next year's budget, which wouldn't be due until the first of October.

The third option -- the full omnibus bill -- is favored by the Establishment Republicans and the leadership. But it wasn't seen as good enough by the Tea Partiers, so they've been attempting to tweak it until it is acceptable. The first suggested tweak was "rescission" (which I discussed last week), and now the second tweak being floated is to combine the two competing ideas -- have a omnibus bill which covers everything except the funds needed to implement Obama's new immigration policy, and then stick that part in a continuing resolution which only funds it for a few months. This way, Republicans could claim they're "not shutting down the whole government," and still get to have a big fight on immigration early next year.

Thus was born the "cromnibus" plan.

Now, there are good points and bad points about such a course of action for the Republicans. The Establishment Republicans would score a clear victory in "being the adults in the room" by fully funding of most of the government through the end of the fiscal year. The Tea Party would get their big fight, but it wouldn't go beyond one issue and threaten everything else. But on the down side, the agency which handles immigration paperwork is actually self-funded (through fees immigrants pay), and is not normally even a part of the appropriations process. This wouldn't legally stop House Republicans from yanking its funding. But it would be much more visible, and it wouldn't make much sense to the average American since the program already pays for itself -- Congress would look pretty petulant, in other words, to the average American. Immigrants from all over the world, however, would be incensed. How, after all, does it make any sense whatsoever to protest undocumented immigrants by shutting down the process for legal immigrants to get documents? Legal immigrants would be affected by shuttering the office's doors, because they would not be able to hand in their paperwork. So Republicans would be enraging not just those affected by Obama's new plan, but also every legal immigrant in the country who has an appointment at the immigration office. It doesn't really make a lot of sense, unless your ultimate goal is to destroy your party's chances to get the support of any naturalized citizen, ever again.

But, again, we'll have that fight early next year, if enough Republicans jump on the cromnibus (so to speak) before it leaves the depot. It'll still have to make it through the Senate, so the cromnibus may break down before it ever gets onto Obama's desk. And he could always veto it -- he certainly seems to be looking for some juicy veto-bait these days. But again, those are fights for the future.

In a nod to Arlo Guthrie's New England storytelling style, we're going to end where we began, by completing that rambling story that you've forgotten I had even started, as we made our way through the haze of the cromnibus exhaust clouds wafting our direction from Capitol Hill. That's right, we're going to resolve the "CRomnibus/Cromnibus/cromnibus" debate, once and for all. A cromnibus, by definition, is a type of a bill. Just like an omnibus, and just like a continuing resolution. It is not "the Cromnibus" it is merely "a cromnibus," even if it is the first of its kind. Even its proponents would have to admit that, if successful, a cromnibus might be the vehicle of choice in the future -- there could easily be other cromnibuses (cromnibusses?) rumbling down the Hill for enthusiasts to jump aboard, perhaps as early as next year. While the phrase "continuing resolution" is commonly shortened to "CR" in Washington-speak, the capitals are simply not justified, as it is not a proper noun at all, it is a general description of a certain kind of bill. All acronyms are not capitalized (although some begin life that way), and some become words in their own right (such as: radar, laser, taser, scuba, and snafu). For all of these reasons and more, our editorial board has determined that "cromnibus" is the correct usage of this Washington neologism. You can either get on board the cromnibus, or you can get thrown under it, your choice.

And, of course, if all of that (or too much turkey) hasn't already put you to sleep...

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


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