The Hill's Near-Debt Experience

The Hill's Near-Debt Experience

April 13, 2018

Washington doesn't mind passing the buck, but it sure hates cutting them! And after last month's $1.3 trillion omnibus, Congress is discovering their spending binge has struck a nerve. Members from both parties are taking a bruising in their districts, especially Republicans -- and if they aren't careful, they'll take a bruising in November too.

Three weeks after disgusting voters with their latest budget bloat, members aren't exactly enjoying the trips home. "They're upset," Congressman Dave Brat (R-Va.) said of his constituents. "They're saying, 'What are you guys doing up there?' If the Republicans stand for anything, it's fiscal responsibility." Although a big chunk of the omnibus went to a good cause -- the military -- there's a very real sense that the rest was just Congress, using the country's credit cards like an irresponsible teenager.

Late yesterday, Republicans tried to put out the fires, fast-tracking a Balanced Budget Amendment they thought might take some of the pressure off. Instead, it only insulted voters more because it was purely symbolic and clearly intended to take the focus off the bloated omnibus vote. Congress doesn't have enough support for the idea, which would also take a considerable state effort to get anywhere close to ratification. Although a lot of groups, including FRC, have supported the idea for years, Thursday's move seemed more than a little disingenuous.

"If you were serious about trying to prevent a very dangerous and debilitating bankruptcy of the United States of America," argued Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), "the votes were in February and March." President Trump, who was boxed into signing the bill because it was the quickest way to bump up defense spending, has more than a little buyer's remorse. In the days since, he's more appalled than anyone by the price tag. "I will never sign another bill like this again," he said angrily. "I'm not going to do it again. Nobody read it. It's only hours old. Some people don't even know what is in -- $1.3 trillion -- it's the second largest ever."

But if Congress thought yesterday's sham would put them back in voters' good graces, they were mistaken. Americans don't want to talk about budgeting responsibly -- they want to do it. If the GOP wants to be taken seriously on spending, they have to prove it. Of course, one of the problems in Congress is that it's become impossible to govern through regular order. "What we've always been asking is for Congress to do its job and to complete appropriations bills on time," said the White House legislative affairs director. "When they don't, you're left in a position where the president is asked to sign a giant omnibus or shut down the government. One way to fix this is for Congress to actually have a normal appropriations process."

Until then, the president does have some weapons at his disposal. One of them -- a process called rescission -- would give Trump the power to roll back billions from the omnibus that the House and Senate passed into law. Thanks to the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, presidents can permanently cancel funding to executive agencies -- if it's within a 45-day window and if simple majority of Congress approves. Right now, that's exactly what the White House is drawing up plans to do, say officials at the Office of Management and Budget. According to administration officials, the president could ask Congress to slash as much as $60 billion from the $1.3 trillion proposal, which is a good start.

Writers at the Tennessee Star explain that the rescission concept isn't as outlandish as some are making it out to be. "If you read the leftist publications, like the Washington Post, you would think this is an obscure rule that has never been used. This is far from the truth. From 1974 to 1999, the executive branch requested $76 billion in rescissions, and Congress approved $25 billion. It is only since 2000 have Presidents resisted rescissions. President Bush barely chose to use the tactic, and Obama never used it. This gives the President and Republicans in Congress a chance for a much-needed win."

For the GOP leaders, who need to win back enthusiastic support from frustrated conservatives, this would be a good first step in what ought to be a longer-term commitment to getting the government back on track. If Republicans need help with the rest, it's time to dust off President Trump's budget proposal. Unlike the omnibus, it wouldn't have America swimming in red ink -- and would defund Planned Parenthood to boot!

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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