“Elections have consequences” is an oft-used phrase following a watershed election, and given the large Republican gains in the Senate, House and in states across the country, this year has clearly been no exception. I believe a major “consequence” of this election is a loud and clear mandate from the American people for Washington to stop the gridlock, work together across ideological lines and start producing real accomplishments on their behalf.
The bottom line from the election is this: The American people want a government that works for them. They want action on the issues that are meaningful and important to the country and to their daily lives. They do not want, nor will tolerate any longer, the circular and corrosive politicking that has infected our system and that is designed for quick cable TV news bites and little else.
The best way for Congress to fulfill this mandate is to bring no-nonsense governing and regularity to the federal funding process. At the core, this means “regular order” for appropriations bills — enacting funding bills on time, and in a responsible, transparent and pragmatic way, without the specter of government shutdowns or the lurching, wasteful and unproductive budgeting caused by temporary stopgap measures.
The day-to-day work of the appropriations process isn’t always headline-grabbing, but it is essential to the basic functioning of our government. It is the head-down, nose-to-the-grindstone legislation that Congress can and should enact, but that has been stymied in the past few years by internal political battles, and, frankly, a Senate that largely refused to participate in the process.
However, to get back to this regular order in the new Congress, we have to first clear the decks on the leftover, current-year appropriations work. We are now months behind in completing these annual bills, and the current temporary measure keeping the lights on in our government will expire on Dec. 11.
Each and every one of these bills contains careful, line-by-line decisions on how, when and where to invest taxpayer dollars. They reflect up-to-date priorities and ongoing budgetary needs, and contain important and often hard-fought policy items that directly address current challenges facing our economy and our communities.
Every member of Congress has had the opportunity to put an imprint on these bills, and to be the voice and legislative arm for their constituents on a wide array of issues. Remember, the House Appropriations Committee has approved 11 of these bills, and the House passed seven, largely on a bipartisan basis. In fact, this year alone, the House has spent more than 86 hours on appropriations bills, considering 412 amendments. And this doesn’t even include hundreds of hours of hearings, briefings and oversight efforts on these bills and every dollar they contain.
This is the work that our constituents sent us here to do. Punting on these important duties, or even worse, throwing them overboard by resorting to a long-term continuing resolution, would waste the progress we have made, would yet again put us on an uncertain and unstable fiscal path, and would eliminate our ability to meet changing needs. Worst of all, it would send a signal to the American people, just weeks after they told us to get our acts together, that we haven’t been listening.
From addressing global crises, to streamlining our tax code, to slicing red tape and regulations that hurt our economy, to enacting policies that will move our country forward, there will be an extraordinary amount of work to do when the new Congress convenes in January. But there simply won’t be the necessary political bandwidth available to address these pressing issues if Congress is bogged down in old battles and protracted to-do lists. That is why it is critical that we pass an omnibus appropriations bill before the end of the year that will close the books on fiscal 2015, responsibly fund the government and allow the next Congress to get off to a running start.
The mandate the American people gave us at voting booths this fall is to work together, to govern, to stop the punting and procrastinating, and to make the tough decisions and cast the hard votes to accomplish the tasks they sent us to Washington to do. Completing our lingering appropriations work quickly will help us fulfill this mandate both now and in the months to come.
Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.