Congress Capitulates (Again) on the Budget

The government barely avoided shutting down on Thursday, which is something you may not have noticed since impeachment has been sucking all the oxygen out of the room (and the news cycle) for the past five weeks.

But late last week, Congress roused itself from legislative apathy to pass yet another short-term extension of spending, known as a continuing resolution (or CR), which extended government funding through December 20.

Sadly, this once-rare process has become standard operating procedure in Congress for passing spending legislation.

Ordinarily, Congress would pass 12 individual appropriations bills before the start of the next fiscal year, each one subject to deliberation and amendment. But that hasn’t happened since 1996.

In the interim, the government spending process has deteriorated into a series of panicked lurches between temporary funding measures, giant, thousand-page omnibus bills (12 bills all jammed into one legislative vehicle), or some combination thereof.

It’s a messy, lazy way to legislate, and what has been lost is any notion of accountability, transparency, or participation by most members of Congress. Instead, it’s become expected that funding bills will be written by a handful of powerful members of the Appropriations Committee and their staff, dropped on the larger membership who are given only hours to review thousands of pages and no opportunity to make any changes.

This is the process about to play out in December.

In fact, it will be worse, since it’s backed up against a holiday season. Nothing gives big-spending Democrats and Republicans more leverage over a pork-filled process than placing passage of their bill between members and the exits—especially right before Christmas.

Not only do members have zero interest in sticking around to debate massive spending legislation when they could be getting loopy on eggnog, anyone who actually delays the process, even by a few hours, will be roundly excoriated.

And this is why you’ll see them all sign off on trillion-dollar spending bills stuffed with all manner of goodies, without a second thought.

To give you an idea of what’s on the table, here is an outline of just some of the issues that will be rammed through in December.

Undoing Trump’s pro-life policies. The Trump Administration has made huge gains for the pro-life movement, while Congress—Republicans in particular—have done nothing on the legislative front. And now they’re about to unravel a key pro-life accomplishment.

Senate Republicans allowed Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to add language to the Senate Foreign Operations spending bill that would direct taxpayer money to domestic groups that fund abortion overseas, directly circumventing the Trump Administration’s efforts to limit those programs.

There is also no effort to limit any money going to Planned Parenthood or to pass legislation such as the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which the Republican Senate voted on once this year before abandoning it completely.

No funding for the wall or efforts to address cartel violence at the border. President Trump has requested $5 billion to continue building a wall along the southern border. It goes without saying that Democrats are opposed, but it doesn’t appear that Republicans are prepared to put up much of a fight for the president’s signature priority, either.

Legislators also continue to ignore the fact that Mexico is rapidly descending into a gangland—a problem that Congress could begin to address by designating the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. But don’t expect that to be included in any spending bill, either.

A massive increase in federal spending. The nation is $22 trillion in debt, and neither party has made an effort to limit government spending. Spending levels were set in a dubious budget agreement struck in July, but the appropriations process should still allow for transparent deliberation and votes on much the Congress will spend. But instead, spending decisions are made by a handful of members while the rest are told to go pound sand. As U.S. Representative Chip Roy (R-Texas) put it recently: “They’ve baked the cake. They just expect us all to eat it.”

Tax extenders. If there has been one reliable thing about the 116th Congress, it’s that K Street and Wall Street will get what they want. This time around it’s the 30-plus expiring tax provisions having to do with depreciation of business properties on Indian reservations, tax credits for energy-efficient homes, and economic development credits in American Samoa. You may not think these are important, but big money interests do. And who do you think can afford to hire more lobbyists—you or them?

Hundreds of problematic grants and studies. Spending bills are littered with blanket reauthorizations of grants and studies. And when spending bills are written by a handful of staff and no one has time to read them, none of them get the oversight they need.

Consider just one example of a study that the National Institutes of Health wants Congress to reauthorize and fund. The study, initiated by the Obama Administration, provides $5.7 million in taxpayer funds to pump children as young as age 8 full of puberty-suppressing, cross-sex hormones that will make them infertile for life. This “scientific study” has no control group, and apparently ignores the fact that 80 to 95 percent of children experiencing gender dysphoria end up accepting their biological sex by late adolescence.

This, and other suspect policies, are likely to remain funded because the handful of staff and members who write the bills aren’t interested in giving anyone time to read the legislation, much less make any changes to it. They are aided by Democrats in the House who are too busy impeaching the president to legislate, and Republicans in the Senate who mostly don’t care.

But none of this changes the fact that determining how much and in what way taxpayer money is spent is one of the key duties of the legislature. The Constitution explicitly leaves spending to the elected branch, as a means of forcing accountability onto the process.

All of that accountability has been stripped away in recent years, as Congress stumbles from one bloated spending bill to the next, far less interested in engaging in robust deliberation over spending priorities than they are about skipping town. This is the status quo. And it benefits no one but the swamp.

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About Rachel Bovard

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and Senior Advisor to the Internet Accountability Project. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.

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