Republicans will need to learn from past mistakes to adopt a winning appropriations strategy

Republicans will need to learn from past mistakes to adopt a winning appropriations strategy

When it comes to government funding, the worst kept secret in Washington is that the ongoing appropriations process is a sham.

While the Congress of yore used to spend the spring and summer considering and passing 12 individual appropriations bills, that is now largely a historical feature rather than an ongoing trait — so much so that it hasn’t happened since 1996. As we’ve seen this year, trillion-dollar omnibus bills and weekend shutdowns reflect the modus operandi of the modern Congress.

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Despite leadership protestations to the contrary, we all know how this year is going to end. Though President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' MORE has promised “never again” to sign a bill like the 2,323 page, $1.3 trillion monstrosity that he signed in March (which, conveniently, barely anyone had time to read), he’d better be prepared to take on the Congress, because that’s exactly what they plan on sending him.

 

Lay your bets now. On Sept. 29, one day before the current spending bill expires, congressional leadership will bring the exact same bill (extended for one year) to the floor, and demand it be passed and signed by the president. Otherwise? The government will shut down. Yes, the shutdown, once a rarity, is now a regularly used cudgel against Members of Congress who have the audacity to ask for amendment votes. Or, you know. Time to read the bill.

But it gets worse. After passing the Omnibus Extension Act at the end of September, Congress will still have to pass another spending bill before the end of the year in December.

Conveniently, this falls during the lame duck session of Congress, where a bunch of members who have just lost their seats in the November midterm elections still get to vote on legislation. This primes the pump for a terrible omnibus spending bill that will pass with the votes of recently defeated members of the House and Senate who have absolutely nothing to lose and thus no problem with voting for a bill that funds Planned Parenthood, sanctuary cities, ObamaCare and the like.

From a fiscal management and good government standpoint, there are obvious problems with this approach. Giant spending bills are a magnet for wasteful spending, pet projects, and small policy changes that are easily missed by staff and members who have thousands of pages to pore over.

But omnibus bills aren’t just bad because they’re big. Rather, their existence and overuse are indicative of a process that strangles member participation, public review, and amendments. Members are kept in the dark until a bill is dropped on their heads without any time to review it. Amendments are blocked (unless you have a petty political score to settle, and then the Senate Majority Leader will use arcane measures to help you), and everyone is told to vote yes, or be the one blamed for a government shutdown.

Even the House’s vaunted “72-hour rule,” established to, ostensibly, give members three days to review a bill before it is voted on, is either waived, or manipulated out of existence. House leaders will either ignore it, as they did in the last omnibus go-round, or they will interpret “three days” as introducing a bill at 11:59pm on a Monday, and voting on at 12:01pm one day later.

Instead of wasting floor time on 12 individual appropriations bills that will simply be ignored in favor of a larger spending package, conservatives should demand that leadership bring that larger bill to the floor, before Members leave for a month in August.

Yes, this requires giving up the highly touted “regular order” of passing 12 appropriations bills. But guess what? This year, anyway, that process is over (and, as mentioned, it has been since 1996). While one, two or three individual appropriations bills may be passed this year, they will not make it into a final package, and it’s a fiction to think otherwise.

GOP leadership is already writing their end-of-the-year spending bill. If conservatives want to have a say in this process, they should demand that the bill is brought to the floor now, before August, so it can be considered in the light of day. Amendments can be offered. Members can read and consider the text. And if not? The Senate should not adjourn for their month-long break.

Moreover, the GOP should learn from their mistakes of several months ago, and actually write this bill with GOP priorities in mind. The bill should defund Planned Parenthood, cut funding to sanctuary cities and provide meaningful funding for the president’s border wall, among other issues.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. Conservatives should reject the fiction that 12 individual spending bills will be completed this year, or that their leadership will not have the audacity to repeat their terrible strategy. They will.

As the old boxing adage goes, when you know the punch is coming, lean into it. You have a much greater chance of surviving the impact when you respond in advance to what you know is coming.

Rachel Bovard (@RachelBovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.