WASHINGTON, October 8, 2013 — Since the federal shutdown, we have seen a rare surge of legislative creativity in the House of Representatives in response to the utter intractability of Democrats in the House and Senate. Republicans want to make very clear that it is the Democrats who have shut the government down and that they are making every effort to solve the nation’s financial problems.
In politics and government, necessity can often be the mother of invention.
After failing to get any response to compromise offers from Senate Democrats, Republicans have fallen back on an alternative approach to budgeting which was fairly standard prior to the creation of the House Budget Committee in 1974. They are passing individual bills to fund specific areas of government operations to get the government back up and running piece by piece. This may be an unfamiliar process to many, but it is a perfectly acceptable way to fund the government.
On Meet the Press this week, Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., pointed this out. “Here’s the thing that people don’t realize. That’s historically the way it’s always been. You pass small appropriation bills so you can look at them individually. It’s actually a much better way to run government, because right now you’re sticking everything into one bill and that’s why the leverage of shutting the government down occurs. But if you did things appropriately and you passed appropriation bills one at a time, no one would be able to shut down the government ever.”
The benefits of individual funding bills are obvious. They make it easier for legislators to scrutinize their contents and make it more difficult to hide pork without being held accountable. In our immediate situation they also provide a practical route to bypassing the core disagreements between the political parties in Congress and keeping key government fundtions operating.
So far, about a dozen different funding bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives. They are making their way to the Senate, where the Democrats in control will have to face the negative consequences of rejecting one after another of them, or be responsible and work with Republicans and do their jobs.
Bills to fund national parks and the Department of Veterans Affairs were defeated by Democrats in the House, despite bi-partisan support, as a two-thirds majority is required to pass funding bills. Even with more than 30 Democrats voting with Republicans, the bills came just short of the number needed to pass. A bill to fund the D.C. government passed the House and was voted down on a party line vote in the Senate. Bills to fund FEMA and WIC passed the House and are pending in the Senate, where Democrat leaders promise to kill them.
Up for consideration in the House this week are more single or multiple related agency appropriations bills to fund Head Start, the National Weather Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Border Security and Enforcement, National Intelligence Programs, the Nuclear Security Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.
If they are passed and get through the Senate, they won’t solve every problem, but they will be the beginning of a necessary process. They also address some specific concerns which are high on the list of pressing problems resulting from the shutdown.
If the bills continue to be voted down by the Democrats as the first few have been, Republicans will at least have hit on a very effective strategy to change public opinion. They will be able to name specific areas of the government which are important to specific constituencies and unequivocally identify the Democrats as having voted down funding for them.
With the budget process having been stalled for so long that it has resulted in the current crisis, it makes sense to take a different approach. The old system clearly isn’t working.
With the problems we face from the deficit and the debt it produces, it makes a lot of sense to break down the budget into manageable parts, empowering legislators to make specific and targeted cuts.
We may have come to this point out of desperation, but that can still be the basis of a budget solution which the nation desperately needs.
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