There are a variety of explanations for the halt in the process. The most persuasive is that the House simply got ahead of the game and had to shift gears and recalibrate when the new overall spending caps were enacted in the debt limit law because they were out of sync with the lower House budget resolution numbers.
Second, the House considered it futile to move ahead when the Senate showed little inclination to move separately on what the House had already passed.
And third, given the lateness of the hour, it seemed impractical for either chamber to process the remaining bills under regular order.
Consequently, House and Senate leaders and appropriators are already basting an omnibus stuffed turkey for Thanksgiving, with probably little or no opportunity for floor amendments (forget about your favorite side dishes).
As much as both parties eschewed and skewered omnibus money bills in the past as a bad way to legislate, majorities are still prone to fall back on them as the most convenient way to extricate themselves from the mire. All this portends a jam-packed fall season and multitrack tangles as the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction is due to report its recommendations just before Thanksgiving, with final floor votes on the package just before Christmas.
There has to be a better way, and there is. It’s called regular order. Leaders should enforce House rules against legislating major policy changes in money bills, bolstering the role of authorizing committees.
Limitation amendments should be curtailed by letting the Majority Leader exercise his authority under the rules to move to a final passage vote at any time after completing the reading of a bill for amendment.
And all amendments to spending bills should be filed in the Congressional Record before the start of the amendment process. Congress can and should better manage the federal purse strings by exercising greater institutional fealty and self-restraint.
Don Wolfensberger is director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.