Issue: H.R. 244, The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017. Question: On Motion to Concur in Senate Amendments Nos. 2 and 3, and in No. 1 with Amendment. Note: The House leadership used H.R. 244, the HIRE Vets Act, as the vehicle for the omnibus appropriations for the remainder of FY2017.
Result: Passed in House, 309 to 118, 4 not voting. Passed by Senate the following day, 79 to 18 (Senate Vote 121). Became Public Law 115-31 (signed by the President, 5-5-17). GOP and Democrats scored.
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With H.R. 244, the House approved a massive $1.07 trillion appropriations bill to finish off the last 5 months of FY 2017 (which ends on September 30th).
Although both parties continued to trample the Constitution (typical bipartisanship), here the action of the GOP leadership was even worse than normal — a huge cave-in to the big-spenders. Only 15 Democrats opposed this measure, whereas a sizeable minority (103) of Republicans opposed it. (In the Senate, the only opposition came from 18 Republican Senators.)
Clearly, even with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, Congress made no effort to roll back unconstitutional spending and departments.
We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)
Bill Summary: The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 comprehended 11 of the 12 regular appropriations areas, finishing off the funding for the Fiscal Year 2017 (ending September 30, 2017). These 11 areas had been funded through continuing resolutions up to this point. (The 12th of the regular measures — Military Construction, the Department of Veteran Affairs — was passed and became law last September.)
Analysis: In any omnibus spending bill, there is good mixed with the bad. That’s one reason why omnibus appropriations are so destructive — the “good” in the bill makes it easier to obtain congressional support. And proponents of this measure argued that there was something in this legislation for everyone — except, of course, for those who have to pay the bill and whose liberty is threatened by the federal monster.
It is easy to assess the 1,665-page measure, the product of a “bipartisan deal,” from the fact that only 15 House Democrats opposed it. The good news is that GOP support was split 131 in favor to 103 against. (In the Senate, the only opposition came from 18 Republican Senators.)
AP (5-3-17) reported that both President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan “declared victory, but the opinions of top party leaders were not shared by the rank and file…. Negotiators on the bill say it looks pretty much like the measure would have looked like if it had been ironed out last year under Obama — save for Trump’s add-ons for the Pentagon and the border.”
Why did 103 House Republicans buck their party leadership to vote against this measure? Certainly, not because they are all committed constitutionalists. It’s because they know they have to face the voters back home and ward off any challenges to their reelection.
Wielding the Power of the Purse
Two widely perpetuated myths provide cover for the House’s unwillingness to use its power of the purse to trim spending. The first is the notion that when pushed against deadlines the House needs to include all 12 appropriations measures in a single omnibus measure for an up-or-down vote. With an omnibus bill, the big spenders can use the specter of a government-wide shutdown to scare a public increasingly dependent on federal spending in order to obtain congressional support.
In reality, the House could easily schedule several independent votes and play hardball with one or more of the areas. In fact, in the case of the just completed FY 2017 appropriations, the least controversial of the 12 regular measures — Military Construction, the Department of Veteran Affairs — was passed and became law last September.
Moreover, in the new 115th Congress, the House passed appropriations for the Department of Defense on March 8. There was no need for the House to include that measure again in an omnibus measure: A tough House would demand that the Senate deal with the House bill already before it.
After voting against the omnibus spending measure, Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) correctly stated:
“House Leadership and the media have led the public to believe that passing one giant omnibus every year, at the last minute, is a legitimate way to fund the government and that anything else will result in a total government shutdown. Both are false. We should write, debate, amend, and pass 12 separate appropriations bills as the law prescribes, so that if any one bill fails to pass, only 1/12th of the Federal government shuts down.”
The bottom line: Responsible representatives concerned about the unconstitutional growth in the federal monster must refuse to support omnibus appropriations measures, and informed voters back home must insist that they do.
The Compromise Myth
The other destructive myth is an ostensible need for compromise. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell repeated the myth on April 7th, stating that spending bills “cannot be done by one party alone.” The idea that appropriation legislation has to be a compromise with socialists, as happened here, is a sure road to our destruction.
The Founding Fathers gave the House the power of the purse so that an informed public could use its leverage with their elected representatives to give government its marching orders.
Separate votes on the 12 appropriations measures would help restore the House’s leverage. Unfortunately, that is not the program of the House leadership. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks often of returning to regular order (12 independent votes), but Ryan and his GOP predecessors are always willing to kick this can down the road to the following year.
In 2015, shortly after Ryan became Speaker of the House, he “vowed that in 2016 there will be a return to regular order in the appropriations….” — Roll Call (12-16-15), “Paul Ryan Talks Up Return to Regular Order.” Unfortunately, we’ve been hearing that hollow promise for decades. Indeed, the backbone and will to deal with the federal monster will have to come from an organized and informed electorate back home.