Republicans Aim to Fix Budget Process
Incoming House Speaker John Boehner plans a radical overhaul of how Congress spends our money.
“GOP to upend spending process,” blares a Politico headline.
House Republicans seem intent on blowing up the staid appropriations process when they take power in January — potentially upending the old bulls in both parties who have spent decades building their power over the federal budget.
The plans include slicing and dicing appropriations bills into dozens of smaller, bite-size pieces — making it easier to kill or slash unpopular agencies. Other proposals include statutory spending caps, weekly votes on spending cuts and other reforms to ensure spending bills aren’t sneakily passed under special rules.
On some level, their plans may create a sense of organized chaos on the House floor — picture dozens of votes on dozens of federal program cuts and likely gridlock on spending bills. And don’t forget that a lot of these efforts will die with a Democratic-led Senate and a Democrat in the White House.
But the intent is to force debate as much as to actually legislate — and make Old Guard Republicans and Democrats uncomfortable with a new way of thinking about the size and scope of government.
Perhaps the most dramatic change is Boehner’s planned Appropriations Committee overhaul to require funding on a department-by-department basis, first reported by POLITICO on Wednesday. His proposal would subdivide the dozen current appropriations bills so that funding for each major federal agency would require a separate House vote.
On the surface, this is a boatload of awesome. Bills people could conceivably read before voting on them! Separating legislation into relevant clusters, rather than attaching poison pills or unrelated must-pass items! What’s not to like?
Well . . .
“John should talk with the professional appropriators about the complexities, rather than talk off the top of his head. His plans would take a huge amount of the House’s time, but what would it accomplish?” said a dubious former House Republican member of the Appropriations Committee who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A former Democratic appropriator also was skeptical about describing prospective changes at that committee, which has a strong tradition of producing 12 bills every year from 12 subcommittees run by 12 very powerful Appropriations “cardinals.”
“On the practical side, it has to be nuts. Given the difficulty in passing the current bills, adding these changes would be a dream world. … There could be a revolt by members, who will want to get home and campaign.”
My instinctive two word reply to that begins with F and ends with ’em.
The Iron Chancellor told us long ago that “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” There’s a need for give and take that’s not pretty. And that’s especially true when you have 435 Representatives with as many constituencies to please. There’s going to need to be a little logrolling to grease the skids.
Having to pass every single line item would obviously be unreasonable. But breaking it down so that each of the 15 Cabinet Department budgets are voted on separately? That doesn’t offhand strike me as silly. It might make more sense to do things functionally (say, all of the intelligence budgets in one bill) instead, but that’s not a given and it’s a quibble in any case.
As to “What would it accomplish?” . . . who knows? Maybe it’ll just amount to grandstanding and go away. But it strikes me as more apt to produce sane spending policies than the current omnibus system. How could it not?
And, frankly, I’m rather tired of czars, cardinals, and the like. Budgeting isn’t easy but it’s not rocket science, either.
Further, this is reverses the recent Republican trend on Ronald Reagan. Usually, they invoke his name to justify something that he either directly opposed, paid lip service to while doing just the opposite, or made sense only in the context of three decades ago. Here, they’re not mentioning Reagan at all but picking up a baton that he dropped. I recall a State of the Union Address where he piled up the gigantic budget bill and made fun of it, vowing that he wouldn’t do that again.