The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 and the subsequent massive 1.3 trillion FY2018 omnibus appropriations bill are now fait accompli. So attention naturally shifts to FY 2019, which begins on October 1, 2018.
However, it’s important that the American people learn what’s wrong in Washington and what to do about it. And a good place to start is to examine the FY 2018 appropriations process and the refusal of congressional leaders to restore regular order (separate votes on the 12 appropriations bills).
During the February 8 Senate debate over the Budget Act, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) gave a particularly eloquent explanation of what is wrong with the current last-minute appropriations process. We repeat here, at length, some of his excellent remarks as recorded in the Congressional Record:
“Mr. President, we find ourselves in another position like those we have found ourselves in before. We find ourselves in a position in which the government’s spending authority is set to expire in just a few hours. We have known this was coming for weeks, just as we did with the last continuing resolution and the one before that and the one before that….
“Sometimes we are so focused on the policy and the price tag that we forget about the process. It is primarily to this subject, the process, that I would like to turn my attention for the next few minutes….
“The Constitution is, itself, all about the process…. It is all about making sure that there is responsiveness and accountability from the government to the people, making sure that the government serves the people and not the other way around….
“Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to spending bills. You see, it is in spending bills that we have the opportunity to exercise oversight over the Federal Government — a government that requires the American people to spend many months out of every year working just to pay their tax bills, a Federal Government that imposes $2 trillion every single year in regulatory compliance costs on the American people, a government that has the power to destroy a business or a livelihood or, in some cases, lives.
“It is important that we exercise this oversight, and without spending constraints, there can be no meaningful oversight. Without an adequate process, the Republican form of government cannot fulfill its role. The American people are no longer in charge of their government when this happens.
“For this reason, it is a little disturbing that a government that spends nearly $4 trillion every single year makes its spending decisions in one fell swoop as it does. You see, whenever we pass a continuing resolution, what we are doing as a Congress is effectively pressing a reset button. It keeps current spending levels intact, in place, unchanged, as if there were no reviewing body, as if there had been no election, as if the American people didn’t matter at all to the process by which they are governed.
“This is an abdication of our role as the people’s elected representatives. It disconnects the American people, and we wonder — we wonder why it is that this is an institution, Congress, that enjoys an approval rating somewhere between 9 and 14 percent, making us slightly less popular than Fidel and Raul Castro in America and only slightly more popular than the influenza virus, which is rapidly gaining on us….
“We have a bill before us that is quite lengthy and that we have had access to for only about 24 hours — a little bit less than that — and we are asked to make a binary choice as to that legislation, yes or no. Vote for it and, in this case, there are some things that you get. You get $90 billion in emergency spending. You get an increase of spending caps of about $300 billion over 2 years. You get in excess of $1 trillion in new debt. Some have estimated it could be more like $1.5 trillion, but we will be talking about a $22 trillion debt by the second quarter of 2019 as a result of this bill….
“Members are told over and over and over again: You are either going to vote for this and accept the government as is, with no changes or with changes that you might find incredibly disturbing, or you will be blamed for a shutdown. Why is this OK? …
“Through the amendment process, people offer up legislation, and they offer to improve legislation. If they have concerns with it, they can offer up amendments. When Members are denied that opportunity, the American people are disconnected yet again from that process. Who benefits from this? Well, it certainly isn’t the American people, who find that their government gets bigger and more expensive. It does so at their expense, at the expense of the American people.
“Every time we undertake this process again — we pass another continuing resolution — we suggest that it is somehow OK to fund the government this way, with one decision affecting every aspect of government, in one vote put forward under sort of extortive circumstances in which Members are told: You have to do this, or the government is going to shut down, and you will be blamed for that if you vote against it.
“This isn’t right. Why couldn’t we bring legislation to the floor not hours but weeks or even months before the deadline? Why couldn’t we allow that to occur, to allow the debate, the discussion to occur under the light of day rather than having this legislation negotiated under cover of darkness, behind closed doors, where the American people are left out?
“I have thought about this on many occasions, and there are very few circumstances in our day-to-day lives that are like the way Congress spends money. It has occurred to me that it is as if you moved into a new area, a very remote area, and you had access to only one grocery store for many, many miles, many, many hours away. You were on your way home from work and your spouse called you and said to stop at the store and pick up bread, milk, and eggs. You go to the store and get your grocery cart. You go to the bread aisle and put a loaf of bread, a carton of milk, and a dozen eggs in your cart.
“You get to the checkout counter, and you put out your bread, milk, and eggs. The cashier rings those things up and says: I am sorry, you may not purchase bread, milk, and eggs unless you also purchase half a ton of iron ore, a bucket of nails, a book about cowboy poetry, and a Barry Manilow album. In fact, this is a special kind of store where you have to buy all of those things. In fact, you have to buy one of every item in this entire store in order to buy any of these things, including the bread, the milk, and the eggs.
“That would start to approximate what it feels like to spend money in Congress, where we are told: You can’t fund any part of government unless you are willing to fund all of government, subject to such changes as the few people who write the continuing resolution might insert. And you, by the way, having been duly elected by the citizens of your State, will be left out of the process other than to exercise the binary choice of yes or no. So we have seen that this is how we get to be $20 trillion in debt, soon to be $22 trillion in debt….
“So process matters. The fact is, we will not always come to an agreement as to how much we ought to spend. We will not always come to an agreement as to those things on which we will be spending, the requisite amount of money. But I think we should be able to agree that the American people deserve a process, one that allows them to be heard through the people’s own elected representatives. If not us, who? If not now, when? At what point are we going to start appropriating funds through this government, through a process that is open, that is transparent, that can be observed by the American people and through which the American people can be heard?” [Senator Lee voted no!]
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Freedom First Society: Restoring regular order is a necessary first step towards the vital goal of rolling back unconstitutional spending. Following the passage of last year’s omnibus measure (The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017), Representative Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) explained how the public is being misled:
“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.”
As James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” pointed out in Federalist No. 58, a simple majority in the House alone has the power to bring government under control:
“The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse — that powerful instrument … [for reducing] … all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”
The reality today, however, is that a majority of congressmen with that agenda does not exist. Congress is marching to a different tune, reinforced by an Establishment media also controlled by big-government forces.
Frustrated voters cannot accomplish change at the ballot box if representatives, once elected, decide they must march to the big-government tune to stay in office while merely talking conservative to their busy constituents, particularly at election time.
The solution: A major educational effort, outside the Establishment media, to build informed constituent pressure will be required to wrest control of Congress from the big-government architects. Only an informed electorate can force the House to use its “power of the purse” to roll back unconstitutional spending, departments, and functions. To accomplish such a task, organization is required — the purpose of Freedom First Society.
As part of its mission to build informed pressure on Congress, Freedom First Society has created a no-nonsense online congressional scorecard to help constituents understand how their representative and senators are voting. We urge visitors to sign up to receive an alert when we score a new House Roll Call or Senate Vote (sign up on the upper right of our home page) and then share these alerts and our scorecards widely.