How the Grinch Picks our Pockets

If I had the choice, I’d rather hang out with Max. You know, that little mixed breed movie star with the antlers!?

It’s that time of year again, when the Grinch arrives to steal Christmas and winds up being everybody’s hero. Of course it helps that Cindy Lou-Hoo is cute and we like to cheer when the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes that day.

While this is all good for the kids (and grown-up kids) watching that annual TV tradition, the truth is that during these dark days of December, the Grinch shows up not in Whoville, but at a lame duck session of Congress, where he morphs into a red-tied Congressman who bundles away goodies for his constituents at the expense of the American taxpayer.

Max wouldn’t like it. And neither do we.

Here are the top pending Grinch awards for 2014.

The National Defense Authorization Act, already passed by the House, contains a massive federal land grab – a provision that creates eight new national parks in 10 states, expands seven existing parks, designates 245,000 acres as wilderness, and withdraws another 289,000 acres from natural resource production. As my colleague Myron Ebell notes, ““This is a backroom deal locking up federal land so it cannot be used to produce natural resources, such as energy, minerals, livestock and timber — a devastating economic effect on people in the rural West.”

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) has just introduced an Export-Import Bank reauthorization bill. Remember when it seemed we’d killed Ex-Im back in the summer? It was good to raise awareness of this boondoggle, but it’s still there, lingering in the shadows. Rep. Fincher claims his legislation is a “compromise” bill, but if it’s attached to some “must-pass” bill, we’ll know we’re back to the old cronyist games conservatives often rail against. But there’s more.

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, set to expire on December 31, wields the specter of terrorism to justify a huge piece of corporate welfare. The law, which allows the government to backstop insurers up to $100 billion per incident, has a very broad definition of terrorism. The Treasury Department has reportedly told insurers that a cyber-attack could be considered a terrorist incident to kick in the bailouts. The law increases moral hazard and provides fewer incentives for the private sector to fortify itself against such an attack. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) rightly called it part of “a long and ugly history of insurance schemes that underestimate and misprice risk. Each time the purported beneficiaries end up more at risk while taxpayers end up footing the bill.”

Republican donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has been lobbying GOP leadership to protect his brick-and-mortar businesses from competition from online gambling. The U.S. Department of Justice has indicated that nothing prevents states from legalizing and regulating online gambling within their borders. But that hasn’t stopped Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) from introducing the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (HR 4301, S. 2159), a bill written by one of Adelson’s lobbyists, that would rewrite the original 1961 Wire Act so as to prohibit all forms of Internet gambling and overturn laws passed in states already legalizing online gambling. Have Republicans forgotten the principles of federalism that supposedly make up their core beliefs? This effort went nowhere this lame-duck, but we can be sure that Adleson and Co. will be back to try again.

And of course, there’s that infamous end of the session practice of restoring the slew of expiring tax credits. The names of these bills kill me. Why can’t the “Expire Act” actually do what its title suggests? And the “Tax Increase Prevention Act” is decidedly not that. Instead of proposing general tax relief, it reinstates targeted tax credits that benefit certain constituencies or industries: research credits, bonus depreciation credits, deductions for out of pocket expenses for educators (I’m married to a teacher, so thanks, by the way), energy-efficiency home improvement credits, and the like. Yes some things were left to expire, but there is much more that’s reinstated that it gets depressing to think about.

When all these bills are passed, Congress acts as if we should gather around the Whoville Christmas tree singing “Fah who for-aze!”

My response, to quote another great Christmas character who is a bit more of a realist, is simply, “Bah Humbug”!