Freedom First Society

Issue: H.R. 2028, Further Continuing and Security Assistance Appropriations Act, 2017. Question: On Concurring in the Senate Amendment with an Amendment.

Result: Passed in House, 326 to 96, 11 not voting. Agreed to by the Senate the following day (Senate Vote 161) and signed into law by the President, 12-10-16. Became Public Law 114-254. GOP scored. 

Freedom First Society: As amended by the House with this roll call, H.R. 2028 extends massive unconstitutional funding through April 28, 2017.

With this long-term Continuing Resolution (CR), it’s business as usual in 11 of the 12 appropriation areas for another 4 ½ months — intolerable! The House made no effort to roll back unconstitutional programs and spending, but merely kicked FY 2017 appropriations down the road to the next Congress, which will immediately need to be working on FY 2018 appropriations.

Note: Procedural “conveniences” often make it very difficult for citizens to monitor the legislative process. As the “vehicle” for this measure, the House used an unrelated H.R. 2028, “A bill making appropriations for energy and water development and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes,” which it had passed the previous year (5-1-15) for the fiscal year 2016 already ended. The omnibus spending bill enacted in December 2015 comprehended the object of H.R. 2028. Nevertheless, the Senate amended H.R. 2028 on May 12, 2016 to apply to FY2017 and returned it to the House, which turned it into this long-term CR.

Since many of the 63 Democrats who voted against this measure undoubtedly did so for reasons other that seeking reductions in spending, we do not score the Democrats on this roll call.

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: H.R. 2028 extends the massive unconstitutional funding provided in the expiring Continuing Resolution (CR) through April 28, 2017, with some adjustments, (Division A), and appropriations for “security assistance,” (Division B), for the entire FY 2017 (ending September 30, 2017).

Those Division A adjustments, some controversial in themselves, included: Health benefits for 16,500 retired miners due to expire on December 31st; money to help Flint, Michigan recover from its lead-tainted water system. It also included disaster aid for Louisiana and other states, and an expedited process for considering an exemption to a long-standing requirement of 7 years distance from military service for Mr. Trump’s nominee for the civilian post of defense secretary.

Analysis:  Clearly appropriators are focused on fine-tuning current operations and funding new programs, politically popular with their constituencies. What is seriously missing is any discussion of the need to tame the federal monster by returning programs and spending to the limits provided by the Constitution.

For example, prior to the Soviet’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, it was widely recognized that Federal aid to education was unconstitutional. The pretext of keeping up with the Russians was used to overcome this objection, and the powerful education unions and their revolutionary leaders, who would like to control the education of America’s youth, have ensured that Congress steadily expanded that intrusion.

There are dozens of other major examples of unconstitutional federal usurpations, such as health care, energy, and housing and urban development. The intrusions are solidified by a media that refuses to support the vital principle of constitutionally limited government as a mainstay of freedom and progress.

The Real Problem

And that is the real problem with this measure, and with Congress in general. To head off looming disaster and restore prosperity, Congress urgently needs to focus on cutting back the federal government to its constitutional limits. Yet that agenda isn’t even on the table.

In the absence of that focus, a responsible legislator must respect his oath to defend the Constitution and do what the country desperately needs by refusing to support unconstitutional business as usual. As that voice hopefully grows, the leadership will have to cope with it.

You will not find that voice in the House appropriator “debate” for this measure. Nevertheless, portions of the “debate” are quite instructive as to the failure of Congress to deal constructively with the Federal monster. In the debate excerpts at the end of our analysis, note how often representatives claimed to support the abhorrent CR out of necessity. Yet when that “desperation” option lacks sufficient support, Congress will be forced to act more responsibly.

Ignored Alternative

As always, the argument in favor of a CR is that a government shutdown is unthinkable and that time has run out for regular order, i.e., passing the 12 regular appropriations bills. Moreover, in this case, as you will see below in the debates, the House argues that a CR is necessary because the Senate had refused to deal with the House’s bills.   Indeed, House subcommittees had passed all 12 of the bills, and the full House had passed 5, as far back as May:

  • H.R. 4974. Military Construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs (5-19-16, Roll Call 228).
  • H.R. 5325. Legislative Branch appropriations (6-10-16, Roll Call 294).
  • H.R. 5293. Department of Defense appropriations (6-16-16, Roll Call 332).
  • H.R. 5485. Financial Services and General Gov’t appropriations (7-8-16, Roll Call 398).
  • H.R. 5538. Department of Interior, Environment appropriations (7-14-16, Roll Call 477).

During the “debate” over the previous short-term CR, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) led the majority (Republican) side of the debate in the House:

“I think it is worth pointing out that you can’t have regular order in the House if you don’t have regular order in the Senate. The real reason we are here is because the Senate has refused consistently to take up appropriations bills that have been passed by this House. At some point, you simply quit passing the bills because the Senate isn’t going to deal with you.”

          We strongly disagree. Why must the House bear the blame for a government shutdown if the House has done its job? Why not insist that the Senate (and the President), as a minimum, accept the five appropriations bills as passed by the House or bear responsibility for shutting down just that portion of the government?

It’s important to realize that the Constitution gives the power of the purse to the House. But the House simply isn’t willing to play hard ball. Yet that’s what America so desperately needs. There is no reason the House has to capitulate to inaction in the Senate. Even though we could not support much of the spending in the above bills, the House did not need to cave in to the Senate and let even worse versions prevail.

As an example, the CR approved on 9-28-16, due to expire on December 9th, included full year appropriations for the least controversial of the above bills: H.R. 4974, Military Construction, the Department of Veteran Affairs.

At the very least, the House could have done the same with the other 4 bills in this CR and forced the Senate to deal with those. Put the Senate on notice that if it won’t deal with the appropriation process in a timely manner, it will simply forfeit its input.

Moreover, any omnibus CR or omnibus full-term appropriations measure plays into the hands of those who want to use the fear of the political consequences of a full government shutdown to continue out-of-control, irresponsible spending. So, instead, if a short-term CR is absolutely necessary, the House should pass separate CR’s for individual areas. (Better yet, include program cuts in the individual CR’s or simply let funding for a particularly egregious area run out while negotiating the full appropriations bill.) The principled vote on any omnibus appropriations measure must be no, setting the stage for a determined, constitutionalist House, once assembled, to use its power of the purse to make necessary roll backs.

Excerpts from the appropriator “debates

Mr. Harold Rodgers (R-KY and Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee) controlled the GOP side of the “debate.” Mrs. Nita Lowey (D-NY and ranking minority member of the Committee) controlled the Democrat half of the allotted debate time.

As recorded in the 12-8-16 Congressional Record:

Mr. Harold Rodgers (R), KY-05:

“Our current continuing resolution expires tomorrow, so we must act today.

“This continuing resolution is a responsible compromise, making only limited adjustments where required to preserve the security of the Nation, to prevent serious lapses in government services, and to ensure the careful expenditure of taxpayer dollars….

“As I have said on this floor many times over the past 6 years, standing in this exact spot, a continuing resolution is a last resort….

“At the end of the day, a CR is simply a Band-Aid on a gushing wound.

“This is no way to run a railroad. It is bad for Congress, bad for the Federal Government, and bad for our country. A CR extends outdated policies and funding levels, wasting money, and preventing good changes from being made. A CR also creates uncertainty in Federal budgets and in our economy. Lastly, it diminishes the Congress’ power of the purse, giving away the people’s voice in how the government uses their tax dollars.”

Mrs. Nita Lowey (D), NY-17:

“Today we consider the second continuing resolution to keep most of the government open. To say that I am disappointed in this Band-aid approach to operating the government would be an understatement. The legislation before us is an abdication of responsibility for the entire Congress. It is a disgrace that more than 2 months into the new fiscalyear, Congress will kick the can down the road nearly another 5 months for purely partisan reasons.”

Mr. Tom Cole (R), OK-04:

“Frankly, we have got to get out of this.

“I couldn’t agree more with my friend from Indiana who said it pretty well: this is not this committee’s fault. It is a failure in this Congress. This is the responsibility of this Congress and this administration to write the bill for next year. This is a failure to meet that responsibility. It is a necessary step, and I certainly will support it, but we have simply got to get back to the point of regular order….

“So let’s all make a New Year’s resolution. Let’s pass this bill, but let’s get back to regular order. Let’s restore things.”

Ms. Marcy Kaptur (D), OH-10:

“The top brass over there [the Republican Leadership] literally disrespected our committee work and produced, instead, a rotten egg. Today, we will take a vote that forces us to choose between shutting the government down 2 weeks before Christmas or supporting a disgrace of a funding bill, laced with non-germane, controversial provisions.

“What kind of choice is this? What happened to the Republican’s top priority of funding the government under regular order? It is not our committee’s fault. We did our job. What happened to voting on 12 appropriations bills and allowing amendments under regular order? We want to do that, but we are being handcuffed.

“I will tell you what happened. The Republican leaders threw out our up-to-date bills. They threw them in the trash, and they replaced them with yet another bill that looks in the rearview mirror with numbers that are 2 years old and doesn’t meet America’s current realities. It forces our government agencies, including Defense, which Republicans claim to care so passionately about, to operate without any predictability or stability. This is disgraceful. No wonder Americans are so mad at us….

“If Republicans wanted to run the House under regular order, they have failed. They only brought up half of the 2017 bills to the floor for a vote. Where are the other six?”

Mr. Steve Womack (R), AR-03:

“I am not real sure, Mr. Speaker, how much more constructive I could be on this discussion of this underlying bill. The truth has already been spoken by both sides. It is not the bill that we wanted to bring to the floor. It is not the bills that we have marked up after some very serious oversight meetings and discussions within the Appropriations Committee.

“As has already been mentioned, we have moved each of the 12 bills through committee. Only half of them have made it through the floor of the House. So it is not the final product that any of us on the Appropriations Committee, and I would guess most of the people in our Congress, would have wanted to bring.

“But it is the bill that is on the floor today, and it is quite essential that we pass it and leave for the holidays without turning Washington upside down or our economy upside down. So I support the underlying bill, and I would recommend that it get a thunderous amount of approval here within in the Congress.”

Mr. Mike Simpson (R), ID-02:

“We all know [this CR] is necessary because we don’t want the government to shut down, but it is amazing to listen to the number of people who come on the floor. I know all of the Appropriations Committee members want to get back to regular order and do individual bills, conference them, and then do individual conference reports of all of the bills. That is what should be done. That is called regular order. The last time that was done was in 1994; 22 years ago. Under Republican and Democrat leadership, we have not been able to do it in the last 22 years, and it is time we do….

“So how do we do it?

“I will tell you how we do it. It takes a commitment. It takes a commitment of Republican and Democratic leadership that, if you are going to have open rules, which is when any amendment can be offered — a lot of these appropriations bills come to the floor, and we have 100 or 150 amendments offered — they take a lot of time to pass. That is okay, but we have got to have a commitment that we are going to spend the time on the floor to do these appropriations bills. We are willing to do that, but it takes a commitment from leadership that we are going to have the floor time.

“We used to have a time when, all during the month of June and the first of July, it was called appropriations season. We were here for 6 weeks in a row, 5 days a week–sometimes until very late at night and early in the morning — doing the appropriations bills. We don’t do that anymore. We have a new schedule because the district work period is very important also, and I understand that for a lot of Members. At about every third week, we go home and do work in our districts. That time is important, but we are elected to do a job. We have got to be in Washington, and we have got to be on the floor, and we have got to be debating these bills if we want to get back to regular order. We act as if it comes down from on high that, geez, this just can’t happen, like it is not in our control. It is in our control. We on both sides of the aisle need to make a commitment that we will get back to regular order and do individual appropriations bills because that is the way this place is supposed to work.”

Mr. Sam Farr (D), CA-20:

“It is going to be a tough year next year, Mr. Speaker. It is going to be a tough year. Some of the proposals being made are really radical. They are going to cut a lot of things and hurt a lot of people if this Congress doesn’t correct them. We have a sense of how to do that, but we can’t do it with a CR….

“I will just say to my colleagues: Take back your power. Be what theelectorate wants. Be what the Constitution asks us to do. Be that serious-minded, representational government that really drills down on how all of government is going to operate. Don’t cave in to CRs.”

Ms. Sheila Jackson Lee(D), TX-18:

“Let me also say that what really skews and takes this bill, the CR, off its wheels is the waiver, the expedited process of trying to move forward a nominee of the incoming President, violating statutory law that has not been utilized in 66 years since the famous General Marshall was selected. Why not regular order — hearings, legislation, understanding what this will do to the military-civilian separation?…

“The leadership of the House is using the last day the 114th Congress will be in session to do work that should take should take 8 months to complete in a regular appropriations process.”

Freedom First Society: If Congress would cut back the federal government to its constitutionally authorized limits, the appropriations process would not require nearly so much time.

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