‘Progress Comes Painfully’: U.S. House Eats Its Veggies under Budget Deadline
The U.S. House adopted a rule to advance four appropriations bills this week, setting up votes to fund Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture, and State-Foreign Operations before new fiscal year begins on Saturday. “This is progress,” U.S. Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said on “Washington Watch.” The rule, which passed 216-212, broke through gridlock after a rule to advance only the Defense appropriations bill failed three separate votes, most recently last Thursday.
House conservatives aim to pass all 12 appropriations bills through the House and become “the first Congress to do that in some 20 years,” said Good. According to Pew Research, Congress has not passed all of the appropriations bills since fiscal year 1997. Since then, Congress has never passed more than five, and in 11 of the past 13 fiscal years, it failed to pass a single one.
Congress codified a timetable for the appropriations process all the way back in 1977. It began in February, with the president’s proposed budget and a report from the Congressional Budget Office. By April, the House and Senate were to agree to a budget resolution, with the House considering annual appropriations bills beginning May 15. Each appropriations bill funds a different area of the government. The House was supposed to pass all appropriations bills by June 30, to give time for the Senate to consider them and to iron out any differences between the chambers before the new fiscal year began on October 1.
As part of his deal with conservatives to win the speaker’s chair, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) “committed that we would pass our 12 individual appropriations bills,” Good explained. “That was forced on the speaker in the negotiations back in January. We would not have had a return to regular order if we hadn’t had the speaker battle that we did, from the 20 members who challenged that. And so it’s been reluctant change, but the change is in place.”
But, before House Republicans could return to the regular order of appropriations, they had to put out another fire. The government hit its debt limit in January and was in danger of defaulting on its debt by the summer unless Congress acted. McCarthy was willing to help Democrats in the Senate and White House prevent a default, but he wanted some spending cuts in return. Unfortunately, President Biden absolutely refused to negotiate for months.
Then in April — still on schedule for appropriations — House Republicans passed a modest compromise that avoided default and took the first step on the road to responsible spending. Naturally, the Senate ignored it, but it at least forced Democrats to the table. The eventual compromise, which was reached in June, was much weaker — read, still fiscally unsustainable — and House conservatives considered it unacceptable. This fractured the unity among House Republicans, which ultimately derailed the appropriations schedule. Republican disunity persisted through last week, when the last few holdouts twice voted down a rule to advance the Defense appropriations bill.
“The timing of it is inexcusable that we’re down here to the wire at the last moment,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. If the new fiscal year begins without funding authorization, some government functions deemed non-essential could shut down. However, Good estimated that only about 15% of the federal government would be affected. Essential services, from the military to Medicare, would continue to operate, and the Biden administration has broad discretion in determining what is essential.
The mainstream media insists that every government shutdown is Republicans’ fault, and this time is no different. But while Republicans have had bumps along the way, that’s not even close to the whole story. While Democrats controlled the House from 2019-2022 and the Senate from 2021, they unleashed a hurricane of deficit spending — not to mention inflationary spending — that catalyzed a fiscal crisis. President Biden delayed the entire budget process by months by flatly refusing to negotiate.
Yet, while House Republicans have not passed most of the appropriations bills, Senate Democrats have not passed a single one. “If we get through these next four [appropriations bill], that would be 72% of all the discretionary spending,” McCarthy pointed out. “That will be a total of five more than the Senate has been able to pass.”
Another feature of regular order returning in the House is floor amendment votes on spending bills. “We’re going to have hundreds of amendments for all four bills,” said Good. “I think it’s nearly 500 amendments, which is how regular order is supposed to work, where we get to make changes or suggest changes to the bills before we have to vote up or down.” He added, “The fact that you’re going to have these amendment votes on the floor, that’s something we haven’t seen in a long, long time.”
In recent years, Congress has eschewed the appropriations process in favor of continuing resolutions. In a continuing resolution, or CR, parties essentially agree to keep funding the government at current levels, usually with a small percentage increase. They have often been negotiated by party leadership and unveiled at the last minute, giving members no time to analyze their contents.
Funding the government by CR makes it impossible to make budget cuts and guarantees that government will grow over time. Thus, CRs inherently favor the party that favors more spending, as they can pocket their previous policy wins and build from there. Agreeing to copy-paste new spending from old also takes less skill and labor — which is why Congress often prefers it — much as it is easier to keep a tire rolling by occasionally slapping its top than it is to drive a car.
Senate Democrats have proposed their own short-term CR to take the pressure off the budget debate for a few weeks, spending more money than House Republicans will agree to spend. The strategic move attempts to derail the House’s commitment to passing the 12 appropriations bills, which would make the Senate look bad for failing to act.
“Have they passed that?” McCarthy responded to the Senate proposal. “All right — ask me when they pass it.” Approximately 10 House Republicans would oppose any continuing resolution.
“We don’t want to relieve the pressure of the moment and the deadline,” said Good. He warned that the history of averting shutdowns suggested the CR would “go from a 30-day to a 45-day to a 60-day, and it doesn’t cut spending.” “As long as we’re moving our spending bills,” Good told Perkins he would agree to a short-term CR “that secured the border and cut” spending to “the agreed upon levels from April. … But I’m not sure the votes are there to that effect.”
However, Good said Congress could finish the appropriations process with only a brief government shutdown. “We ought to be able to complete this work by mid-October at the latest with minimal impact on the country from a shutdown standpoint,” he said. “Sometimes progress comes painfully. … The main thing is to get the spending bills done.”
“We have a $2 trillion deficit, and it is House Republicans that are actually taking the responsible position in Washington in dealing with it,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.).
“What I fear will happen, is that moderate and liberal Republicans in the House and the Senate will join with Democrats and pass an unconditional CR of even more than the 30 days,” Good added. “But the House is responsible, as you know, for what we do, and that’s why we should pass the strongest funding bill.”
Perkins urged House Republicans to bring the plane in for a landing — and soon. The appropriations bills are some of the most conservative ever considered, and — a rarity in Washington — they actually cut spending. The appropriations bills may have taken time, but the finished works contain many conservative victories and raise the standard on Washington’s sloppy spending. “At some point, the conservatives have to realize, look, I’ve got the best deal I can get. Let’s go with it,” said Perkins.
Perkins tweeted, “This is what we asked for — elected leaders who will do the hard work! Take heart and strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a (much-needed) bumpy ride.
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.