If Congress follows House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP senator won't vote to defund Planned Parenthood Immigration hard-liners hold fire on ‘dreamers’ program THE MEMO: Trump's big immigration gamble MORE’s (R-Wis.) lead in 2016 and restores “regular order” in the appropriations process it will mark the first time in nearly a decade Congress has debated and passed 12 individual spending bills. Ending the era of massive year-end omnibus spending bills is a cause every taxpayer should celebrate.
Regular order isn’t a mere process or managerial goal. Instead, it could save taxpayers hundreds of billions – if not trillions – of dollars and potentially lives as well (i.e. by heading off scandals like the one at the Department of Veterans Affairs in which as many as 1,000 veterans died on waiting lists).
Regular order will also show voters in a critical election year that Republicans are a serious reform party that is capable of governing without earmarks. And it will profoundly frustrate progressives’ plans to incrementally expand the power of the state through federal appropriations.
No one understands regular order’s strategic and policy importance better than Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidHopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs If Gorsuch pick leads to 'crisis,' Dems should look in mirror first Senate confirms Mulvaney to be Trump’s budget chief MORE (D-Nev.).
In June of 2015 Reid brazenly declared his intent to filibuster the entire appropriations process until Republicans agreed to increase domestic spending. Reid gambled that Republicans would be too divided and distracted to put up a fight. Sadly, he was right.
The House made a respectable effort to follow regular order and passed several individual spending bills. When those bills came to the Senate, however, Reid followed through on his threat. Regular order stopped and the year ended with yet another gratuitous omnibus spending bill that locked in waste and added about $2 trillion in new debt over the next two decades.
Reid’s objectives were both political (he wanted to portray the first post-Tea Party GOP majority as incapable of governing) and ideological. Progressives understand that they have a tactical advantage when expansions of federal authority are essentially hidden in massive last-minute spending bills.
For conservatives, on the other hand, regular order is our ideal terrain. If the left wants to increase the power of government they should be forced to fight room-to-room, house-to-house, block-by-block (i.e. line by line and program by program). If conservatives wait to have these fights in a year-end omnibus bill it’s already too late.
Republicans can break this cycle by embracing regular order with the same level of intensity with which we condemn omnibus spending bills. Every organization that promotes fiscal responsibility, such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and many others, should lock arms and support this effort. We should direct our fire at our common enemy – the idea that a central government can allocate scarce resources more effectively and compassionately than free markets and free people.
The fact is Democrats like Reid have exploited our divisions masterfully. After Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 Republicans had a historic opportunity to lock in sequestration’s budget savings by turning them into specific and enduring cuts. At a minimum, Republicans could have used regular order as a tool to turn spending increases into a Pyrrhic victory for President Obama and congressional Democrats. But Republican leaders failed to outline a bold plan to make this happen. Meanwhile, other Republicans instead prioritized a push to defund ObamaCare.
Reid has promised Ryan that he won’t block spending bills again as long as they don’t contain unrelated policy riders but Republicans should prepare for another Reid filibuster. For progressives, examining every aspect of the federal budget is unbearable. They know regular order is a serious threat to Obama’s plan to secure his legacy through higher spending and executive overreach.
Republicans need to lay the groundwork now to make a Reid filibuster political untenable. Members can draw from years of oversight and study to help them draft spending bills that reflect Republican priorities and values.
Of course, these bills won’t pass automatically. Republicans lack 60 votes in the Senate required to pass ideal Republican bills and if Republicans do their job well they should expect presidential vetoes. But there is no excuse for not giving taxpayers an honest and constructive fight about priorities.
Today, thanks to the Tea Party elections – which excesses like earmarks helped inspire – conservatives aren’t on the outside looking in. They have the power to make regular order a reality. Doing so will help unite all Republican factions.
Speaker Ryan has wisely invited every member to participate in this process. It’s a promise he should keep, and every Republican should accept.
Coburn served in the Senate from 2005 to 2015. He is honorary chairman of American Transparency. Hart, a former Coburn aide, is the editor in chief of Opportunity Lives.