Just before Christmas, Congress passed a $1.15 trillion “omnibus” appropriations bill, funding all federal discretionary spending through Sept. 30, 2016. Members of Congress had less than 72 hours to read the 2,000-page bill, negotiated in secret by a small group of Congressional leaders and the White House. If you vote “Yes,” you fund the President’s liberal agenda. If you vote “No,” the government shuts down. By contrast, the government is supposed to be funded by 12 annual appropriations bills developed and passed individually with open amendments so members can represent their constituents. So what went wrong?
In collaboration with President Obama, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid blocked consideration of all appropriations bills during 2015. As the end of the fiscal year approached, with no money appropriated to fund the government beyond Sept. 30, House Leadership brought forward and passed a short-term continuing resolution, funding the government through Dec. 11. I voted no. Then Leadership brought forward another bill — the Bipartisan Budget Act — allowing spending increases in 2016 and 2017 and suspending the debt limit until March, 2017. Again, I voted no. House Leadership then developed and introduced a single, massive bill to fund the government for the rest of the 2016 fiscal year. This omnibus bill was passed on Dec. 17, 316 to 113. 94 Republicans joined me in voting no. The Omnibus bill was subsequently passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama.
The Omnibus bill included a few good provisions, notably an end to the 1975 ban on crude oil exports. However, all told, it is unconscionably bad for the United States, continuing reckless debt-financed spending that has the national debt headed past $20 trillion. The Omnibus bill funded all of President Obama’s priorities, including “Obamacare,” Planned Parenthood, the Iran nuclear deal, illegal amnesty, sanctuary cities and the Syrian refugee resettlement program. In approving the bill, the House again surrendered the power of the purse. That power, as James Madison observed in Federalist No. 58, is the most effective means of shaping federal priorities, including restraining a lawless administration that’s working overtime to fundamentally transform America.
When faced with a bad bill, the solution is to defeat it so that a better bill is brought forward for consideration. Faced with a broken appropriations process, the solution is for members to demand a return to regular order, meaning that each of the 12 annual appropriations bills is drafted, debated, and reported by the 12 subcommittees of jurisdiction within the full House Appropriations Committee and brought to the House Floor for open amendment, debate and passage.
Speaker Ryan has said he is committed to a regular order appropriations process for fiscal year 2017. I fully support that plan. However, the House leadership must announce now, before the FY2017 appropriations process begins, that the House will bring all 12 appropriations bills to the floor, pass them, send them to the Senate and then wait, for however long it may take, for the Senate to act. Everyone should understand up front that if the Senate refuses to take up appropriations bills this year, the House will not agree to a continuing resolution or omnibus. If the Senate refuses to act, and the government shuts down for lack of funding, the responsibility will lie squarely on the shoulders of Harry Reid and Barack Obama.
Sticking with this plan will require political courage rare in Washington, but Congress must stop putting Washington’s interests ahead of representational government. If America is to regain its historic exceptionalism, be true to the Constitution, and extend the blessings of the Founders’ vision to new generations of Americans, we cannot and must not continue down the reckless, destructive path we are on. Congress must reassert the power of the purse without delay. We must begin now.