Congress has developed many bad habits over the years. Perhaps the biggest one is the devolution away from regular order in the annual appropriations process. This regression that has watered down democracy by funding the government via huge omnibus spending bills that nobody reads and few people understand.
House Republicans last week took the first step toward restoring faith in the budget process by passing all 12 appropriations bills via regular order for the first time since 2009.
“We have done our job for the people, but more importantly, we did our job the right way,” Speaker Paul Ryan said after the vote. “We did it through regular order. We moved these bills through subcommittee. We moved these bills through full committee. We had an enormous amendment process on the floor. And we achieved conservative victories for the president’s agenda and for our agenda.”
The process here is important. There are 12 appropriations bills, and each bill has its own subcommittee whose job it is to debate the bill, mark it up, and pass it to the floor for a full vote. These bite-size chunks allow for a degree of scrutiny in what would have otherwise been a $1.2 trillion spending behemoth (unfortunately the much larger “mandatory” portion of the budget, which covers entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, is on autopilot).
Getting through the process of regular order was predictably difficult. It involves members from districts with significantly different policy priorities finding common ground on an enormous number of different policy issues. At some points cobbling together the needed majority seemed unlikely, but Budget Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen spent late night after late night guiding this legislation to a successful vote. And House leadership allowed floor debate on more than 460 amendments, representing eight days worth of votes and debate, in order to make sure everyone’s ideas were heard.
That’s what the budget process should be. It’s what democracy should look like.
Fortunately, as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers explains, the bill’s substance lives up to the process.
“It is Congress’s Constitutional responsibility to exercise the power of the purse, and The Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act responsibly funds our government and prioritizes the needs of the American people,” Rodgers said in a statement. “This bill includes pro-life protections, cuts wasteful government programs, funds national security, puts more money to NIH and other important health and research initiatives, allots funding to infrastructure projects, and stops harmful regulatory overreach by multiple agencies.”
The budget clearly articulates several key priorities shared by Republicans: A respect for America’s hard-earned tax dollars through sensible spending reductions and the elimination of wasteful programs; the safety of the American people as seen through important investments in domestic and international programs to combat terrorism and strengthen our technological infrastructure; and a laser-like focus on funding programs that grow the economy and cutting regulations that inhibit its expansion.
Among the ideas contained in the House legislation:
- Rolls back job-killing regulations such as the Dodd-Frank regulations and the fiduciary rule
- Includes $848 million for the Small Business Administration to help promote programs that help small businesses begin, grow and prosper
- Provisions to stop the IRS from implementing the individual insurance mandate
- Gives our troops the largest pay raise in eight years
- Ends dozens of underachieving government programs and reduces funding for hundreds of others that must demonstrate improvement
- Reforms the IRS to prevent them from infringing on Americans’ First Amendment rights
Perhaps most importantly, it sets up the opportunity for a budget reconciliation process that could be used to advance tax reform.
But, as Frelinghuysen points out, the House’s action, though incredibly important, is not the end of the process.
“This is the next step in the process, but it is not the end,” Frelinghuysen said. “Funding these important federal responsibilities and keeping the government open is our constitutional duty to the people we serve, and I look forward to the final completion of all these critical bills.”
As do we.
Photo Credit: Ken Teegardin