Congress will not celebrate fiscal new year’s eve Sept. 30. That’s because: (a) it will not be in town; and (b) it will have nothing to celebrate.
For the 15th consecutive time, the first branch has failed its first duty to fund the government for a full year. It will again fall back on a stopgap continuing resolution to keep the government running temporarily.
Congress’ fiscal delinquency has become chronic. The last time all regular appropriations bills were enacted on time was 1996. If Congress kicks many more cans down the road, Pennsylvania Avenue will look like tin-can alley.
Notwithstanding the new House Republican majority’s “pledge” to restore regular order and put the appropriations process back on track, it has fallen into the same bog as its predecessors.
It’s not a case of committee sloth or gridlock. Appropriators and their staff still work diligently, day and night, to complete their work. It is more of a matter of overloading the system with extraneous matters that eventually slows things down between the chambers, between the parties and with the president.
House Republicans deserve high praise for restoring an open amendment process for appropriations bills — a time-honored practice that Democrats jettisoned two years ago, prompted by dozens of GOP amendments to eliminate earmarks.
Last year, Democrats brought only two regular appropriations bills to the floor before abandoning the process in July. Then, after the elections, they attempted to jam through an omnibus full-year bill in December that they knew couldn’t pass the Senate. That forced the ball into this Congress’ court.
The resulting omnibus continuing resolution wasn’t enacted until April 15 — more than six months late. That, in turn, set the House Appropriations Committee back at least a month, though by mid-July it had reported nine of the 12 regular money bills and sent six of them on to the Senate (which, to date, has passed only one).
The House Republican majority imposed an earmark moratorium this year, and the Senate went along, removing that retardant to action. However, two other procedures remain that prolong and complicate the process.
The Appropriations Committee still legislates on spending bills in violation of House rules. And Members still can offer limitation amendments, prohibiting the use of funds for specified purposes, which is permissible under the rules. Both are popular devices for modifying or reversing executive agency actions.
All this became readily apparent during consideration of the Interior and environment appropriations bill in late July. The Appropriations Committee included 337 legislative provisions in the measure, compared with 298 two years ago, with most of the new ones targeting environmental policies. The committee’s minority report charged that these “special interest riders have become the new earmarks.” The Rules Committee protected all of them against points of order.
Members then began filing floor amendments in the Congressional Record over a 10- day span — 92 at last count, 40 of which were limitation amendments. Floor deliberations dragged on for four days, during which 45 amendments were considered.
And still, the House was only two-thirds of the way through reading the bill for amendment when the leadership pulled the measure on July 28.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.