Obviously the first and most important point to be made about the possibility of the government shutting down this week is the fact that had Democrats, who held a majority in both the House and Senate last year, done their basic job of passing a budget, this wouldn’t be an impending problem.
Now, unsurprisingly, it has devolved into a political battle pitting the Republicans on the side of cutting spending as their constituency insists upon (and voted for) against Democrats who, failing to do their job last year, now are dragging their feet in the Senate (the House passed a continuing resolution to fund government 46 days ago) and making veto threats from the White House.
Funny, how politics works, isn’t it? Those who didn’t do their job last year or provide any leadership on the subject are now actively working against passage of a stop-gap funding measure and prepared to blame those who are attempting to fix the problem for any government shutdown which might occur.
While he had every opportunity to weigh in on the budget last year when Democrats didn’t pass one, now that he sees political advantage in weighing in (he just started his 2012 re-election campaign remember) we finally hear from President Obama:
“What we can’t be doing is using last year’s budget process to have arguments about abortion; to have arguments about the Environmental Protection Agency; to try to use this budget negotiation as a vehicle for every ideological or political difference between the two parties. That’s what the legislature is for, is to have those arguments, but not stuff it all into one budget bill.”
Now he takes a stand. When his party failed to pass a budget last year? Crickets. Apparently fully prepared to live on continuing resolutions during the tenure of the Democratic controlled Congress, now he’s putting his foot down. Instead of working to ease the situation and negotiate a settlement that would be acceptable to both parties, he threatens a veto.
“On the issue of a short-term extension, we’ve already done that twice. We did it once for two weeks, then we did another one for three weeks. That is not a way to run a government.
No kidding. But where in the heck was the president last year when Congress failed in its duty and set this predicament up? The government has been working on “short-term extensions” since October of last year. Now, suddenly, they’re a problem.
I don’t disagree with Obama’s points, I just am disgusted by the disingenuousness of the argument. Not that it surprises me, however, at all.
But when government shuts down, and the blame game begins, remember the reason that such a situation even developed in the first place. Congressional nonfeasance and lack of presidential leadership.
One bit of advice I’ve been consistently throwing out there for the incoming GOP House majority is to act on those things that lead to less spending and smaller less costly government. If they sit back and complain that even if they pass these things the Senate will vote it down or, if by chance, it gets past the Senate, President Obama will veto it, they’re gone in 2012.
So I was rather pleased to see that they intend to do exactly that in a POLITICO article today:
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.
For every action, however, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And, per POLITICO, that opposite reaction is going to come from the “Old Guard” Republicans and Democrats who feel they’ve earned their power via seniority and don’t want to see it threatened or disrupted.
Insiders who have made a living under the old system are sure to push back, and many fear that Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) may not understand what he is doing.
“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.”
What is Boehner’s heresy?
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.
Yup … real change comes hard. The “cardinals” want their power to be undiminished. There’s a shock. So let’s attempt to answer the question of the “dubious former House Republican member of the Appropriations Committee” shall we?
What would it accomplish?
Well, let’s see – one, if it took more time, it would be more time spent on bringing sanity to the appropriations process – a vital job of the House – and less time celebrating such things as the Smackover Arkansas junior league squash team’s championship or recognizing National Skunk Ranchers day.
Secondly, it would take a serious look at the appropriations process in detail. Understandable, “bite-size pieces” that one can wrap their head around and vote down if the spending can’t be justified vs. huge omnibus bills so large and complex that it is difficult for anyone to understand what they’re voting for.
Third, as the paragraph states, doing it that way would “ensure spending bills aren’t sneakily passed under special rules.” Or said another way – actual debate would be encouraged, not avoided.
And frankly, I like this idea as well – for the “detailed look” and context it would bring to the process:
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.
Size and complexity are the enemy of good legislation and certainly sane appropriations.
“The [suggested] changes may be easier to follow and make more sense” than the existing practices, said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “As long as members can make a case for or against a particular program, they will have the basis for objective decisions.”
Precisely. And an objective process in which to identify and eliminate waste, fraud, abuse, parts of agencies (redundant) or entire agencies (unproductive bureaucracies)if the case could be made (and it can – the question is whether it will). But this sort of process at least is a step in the right direction of bringing fiscal sanity back to the appropriations process if it can be introduced and followed.
Of course we’re talking politics and vested interests here so you never know. And, of course, the GOP members must “buy into” the new process to make it work. That, of course is a leadership problem, and it will be among Boehner’s first tests if he and his leadership group truly hope to change the way the House does business and enact measures that will indeed reduce spending and dial back government’s size and cost.