Last week, something significant happened in the conservative movement that got few headlines, but could make headway. The Republican Study Committee (RSC) came out with a conservative, elegant, and practical way to get Washington, D.C., out of its budget quagmire. Their Responsible Spending and Accountability Act of 2015 (RSAA) isn’t legislation for the purpose of messaging and posturing. It is instead a document that can position Congress to make real conservative reforms. Of course the media and the left largely ignored it. They are threatened by disruptive, conservative ideas that will resonate with voters.
The appropriations process in Congress is used by the House and the Senate to determine the levels at which federal departments and agencies are funded. The funding choices Congress makes reflect their political priorities. Appropriations bills aren’t just about dollars and cents. They also serve as statements from Congress about where we are going as a nation. With all of this at stake, passing appropriations bills is a difficult and time-consuming process.
As it should be.
Committing taxpayer dollars to specific goals shouldn’t be rushed. But the bills must be completed by September 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. When they aren’t, Congress passes a continuing resolution, telling the Treasury to keep funding the government even though the spending bills Congress must pass are past due. That keeps reforms from happening.
Continuing resolutions often beget the ominously named omnibus, which is a giant bill which contains all or most government spending. Predictably, this legislative leviathan is poorly vetted, rushed through the House and the Senate, contains all sorts of goodies for special interests, and fails to reflect conservative priorities.
Clearly, the appropriations process is broken. The reasons for this dysfunction are many: tough spending decisions are punted to the next fiscal year, other legislative priorities are advanced at the expense of appropriations bills, and the federal government is in perilous fiscal health. Over the last several months, two obstacles have completely stalled the appropriations work of Congress.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has refused to permit any appropriations bill to come to the floor of the Senate for a vote. He is committed to busting the responsible caps on spending previously agreed to by Congress and President Obama. He would rather put the United States deeper into debt to spend money we don’t have, instead of legislating responsibly.
In the House, Republican leadership derailed the appropriations process despite controlling that chamber. After passing six spending bills, the House took up the Interior spending bill. That bill was taken off the floor schedule after controversy about the Confederate flag in July. The appropriations process in the House has been stuck ever since.
When bills get stuck in Congress, the institution tends to produce stale thinking, ugly compromises, and political perfidy. Last week, the RSC acted boldly and announced a detailed proposal, the RSAA, to get the appropriations process moving again. RSC chairman Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX-17) unveiled the committee’s effort to advance conservative spending and policy priorities, providing Congress and President Obama with a way to break out of the old cycle of delaying tough decisions and wasting taxpayer dollars.
The RSAA “would adopt the FY2016 appropriations package, including the six appropriation bills passed by the House earlier this year. It would also include several important policy priorities, including measures to defund all abortion providers, ban the sale of fetal tissues and defund Obamacare and executive amnesty.” The RSC proposal would also keep President Obama from lifting sanctions on Iran until 2017.
The bill is a significant accomplishment. It manages to build on the work already done in the appropriations process, consolidate conservative gains made in the spending bills, and address the unholy trinity of the Obama administration: abortion, amnesty, and appeasement.
The appropriations process is a mess. President Obama keeps getting the better of Congress. The RSAA may be the way for Republicans in the House restart the annual spending bills and to get a strategic and policy win. The bill deserves to be debated and voted on in the House. That debate would provide a stark contrast between conservatives trying to change the way Washington, D.C., works, and liberals defending the discredited status quo.
Neil Siefring is president of Hilltop Advocacy, LLC, and a former Republican House staffer. His opinions are his own. Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilSiefring