The “dead cat” lies at the door of the Congress when it comes to budgeting and appropriating. It’s broken under the dome.
According to the latest Real Clear Politics poll, 17 percent of those surveyed approve of the way the Congress is doing its work. More telling, 63 percent disapprove of the way the Congress is running the country. It’s due mostly because the public sees Congress’s inability to perform the basic tasks of budgeting and appropriating.
It should work this way: In the early first quarter of the year, the president sends his budget for the upcoming fiscal year to the Congress. Both the House Senate debate, amend and pass a “Budget Resolution.” This does not require the signature of the president. It is an internal working document of the federal legislative branch.
Under the provisions of the Budget Act of 1974, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees receive the overall funding allocation for the upcoming fiscal year. Then those committees make an allocation to each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees in each chamber.
The appropriations process begins with each subcommittee considering how to spend its allocation. They go through a process called “marking up” their bill. Once done, the full committee reviews the subcommittees’ work and may make changes.
From there, the bills go to their respective chambers for further consideration and amendment. Once the House and Senate have passed their versions of the budget, select members of each house go to conference and produce what is called a “conference report,” which is not amendable. After both chambers pass the conference report, that is what’s sent to the president for his signature or veto.
This process is supposed approve 12 separate appropriations bills by midnight of Sept. 30, the end of the federal government’s fiscal year.
The process gives each House and Senate member ample opportunity to have their views and priorities considered. It works best and produces the best legislation for the country when the Congress can focus on each of the 12 bills separately and get them passed and signed into law prior to Sept. 30.
In the 1980s and 1990s the Congress mostly followed this process.
Where we are today is that the current and recent Congresses have become sloppy with the process, joining some of the 12 bills together (five or six) and creating monstrous pieces of legislation called “Omnibus Appropriations Bills,” some over a thousand pages long. It is impossible for each member and staff to know exactly what is in them.
Smaller groupings of appropriations (two or three) bills are called “Minibuses.” Even then, it is very difficult to know their contents adequately.
What’s worse is getting to the end of the fiscal year without Congress completing its work and forcing the passage of “continuing resolutions” which keep the federal government open and running albeit at the prior fiscal year’s spending levels.
This results in a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money, with a misappropriation of federal revenue that each of us pay into the federal government. This is a bipartisan problem. Members and staff on both sides of the aisle share equal responsibility.
If Congress can’t do the basics, then how can it be expected to consider other pressing domestic and international issues, especially when the world looks to the United States for leadership. It’s hard to lead the world when our government is reduced to saying, “do as we say, not as we do.” We must “do what we say.”
What’s the solution? Citizens should demand that the House and Senate strictly adhere to the separate consideration of each of the 12 appropriations bills. You can better examine a 12-car train by looking in each car rather than the entire train all at once. The taxpayers should demand this. Congress needs to do its work on time and meet its fiscal deadlines, just like each of us must meet on April 15.
Unless and until the Congress properly manages this process, we will continue to have train wreck upon train wreck, where we all are left with the cleanup.
Wayne Boyles, of Pinehurst, served on the staffs of Senator Mack Mattingly and Senator JBYesse Helms, and in the administration of President George W. Bush.