114th Congress, Big Government, Budget, Congress, House of Representatives, Issues, Senate

What ever happened to the power of the purse?

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There is no minute like the last minute.

It is Sept. 30, and that means it is the last day of Fiscal Year 2015.

If Congress does not act by midnight the government will be partially shut down. But not over any fight to defund the health care law, executive amnesty for illegal immigrants, or Planned Parenthood.

No, the question of funding is being settled at the last possible moment with a Senate continuing resolution through Dec. 11 simply because congressional leaders have opted for the past many years to govern by crisis.

There is no appropriations process to speak of, which most recently got shut down this past summer when the issue of defunding Confederate flags came up.

But even considering the wider record, since 2011, much of the government with a few exceptions has been funded via continuing resolutions and omnibus spending bills. Which tend to be presented at the last possible moment, and with little to no opportunity to amend.

Usually, these are deals crafted between congressional leaders and the White House behind closed doors.

Obama has had no reason to veto these spending bills. The one time he did veto a spending bill was when Democrats were in the majority.

With Republicans in control of the House since 2011, and the Senate since the beginning of 2015, no spending bill has actually reached Obama’s desk to even be vetoed. They were all pre-negotiated settlements.114th Congress

Spending bills that might have achieved something were never able to overcome the Senate filibuster, so Obama did not have to veto them.

That said, so-called discretionary spending levels have been frozen since 2011. These were locked into place when Congress did manage to get budget sequestration in the 2011 debt ceiling battle. But little else has been accomplished from a Republican perspective via the appropriations process.

In the meantime, two-thirds of the $3.5 trillion budget continues to operate on autopilot — $2.3 trillion of so-called mandatory spending, entitlement programs that dole out defined benefits on the basis of eligibility rather than annually approved dollar amounts.

Republicans argue that they just need a Republican president, and then they can achieve something — ignoring the obvious fact that they will still likely be unable to achieve 60 vote thresholds to roll back key big government programs even if they hold the House and Senate.

This has always been a problem. Since the advent of Rule XXII establishing cloture 98 years ago, Republicans have never had a filibuster-proof majority. And if history holds, they likely never will.

And until the filibuster is eliminated, at least on appropriations bills, and entitlement programs require periodic reauthorization, the Congress’ power of the purse will remain tenuous at best, leading to the very sort of crisis management we see today.

One can only hope that whoever takes over for House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) after he retires recognizes these defects, and can begin to move to restore normal order. The framers of the Constitution never envisioned a system where Congress has so little power to set the nation’s fiscal policies.

This is a guest post by Robert Romano senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.

 

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