A Georgia congressman proposes a timing change in government spending that he says would advance conservative principles as well as fast-track the budget process.
“Just given the known time constraints we have, this is just a new idea to make the government funding process work and [do so] in a transparent way, while at the same time crafting a bill that matches our conservative beliefs as a Republican conference,” Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., told The Daily Signal in an interview.
Grave hopes to involve a plurality of conservative lawmakers in creating a final spending package rather than simply voting on a deal crafted by congressional leadership from both parties, a House staffer said.
Graves, chairman of the House subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, proposes that instead of considering and passing 12 separate spending bills, lawmakers roll them into one big package.
In the congressional tradition known as regular order, the House Appropriations Committee passes 12 spending bills, covering different aspects of government from transportation and social services to foreign policy and defense, before the full House did the same. Then the Senate follows suit. Finally, the president signs the 12 appropriations bills into law.
“Well,” Graves said, “history shows that it just doesn’t work.”
The last year all appropriations were enacted before the annual Sept. 30 deadline was 1996.
“The current process has only worked four times in the last 40 years, and the inevitable result is that the leadership of both parties is empowered to negotiate a final product behind closed doors,” a House aide told The Daily Signal.
“It is a process that unfortunately seems to be designed to fail,” Graves, first elected to the House in 2010 and also a member of the Appropriations Committee, said. “There’s just not enough time, there’s so many differing interests and that leads you to an end product … that then is dropped in the lap of members of both bodies.”
Graves said he prefers that the committee pass and bundle 12 bills into one big spending package, which lawmakers call an omnibus because it contains allocations for the entire government, rather than send the full House the traditional 12 bills for various program categories.
“And so we would be passing one product,” he said. “And by doing that, they can also be more conservative and bring our whole conference along.”
Graves recommends that both the House and Senate pass the omnibus spending bill before Congress leaves late next month for its August recess.
In doing so, lawmakers would craft and act on spending legislation about two months earlier than normal instead of waiting until the last minute before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1, thus potentially jeopardizing the regular order.
Lawmakers from both chambers will be in session together for only 12 legislative days in September.
“Let’s have a bold goal and a vision of doing this before the August recess,” Graves said.
If the change worked, Graves would be inclined to keep it, a House staffer familiar with his thinking told The Daily Signal.
The Graves proposal doesn’t address specific policy or the overall budget numbers.
What it would do, Graves says, is build a spending package “that is fiscally responsible, that is taking care of duplicative programs, that is zeroing out unnecessary agencies, that is funding the border wall, that is protecting life, and rebuilding our defense.”
The goal is for the end product to reflect conservative values, the House staffer said.
“So hopefully we can pass this bill with just the House Republican conference, not having to rely on Democrats and having to compromise some of our wins,” the staffer said.
Republicans hold 239 seats in the House to Democrats’ 193, with three seats currently vacant.
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, supports the timing change.
“This plan is ambitious, and we know that,” Collins said in a prepared statement, adding:
Conservatives have a responsibility to fund the government wisely, and the Constitution tells us that that process starts in the House. We have the ability to send a commonsense budget to the Senate ahead of the deadline, and I hope to see my colleagues take advantage of this opportunity.
Conservatives tend to be suspicious of omnibus spending bills as “Christmas tree” packages stuffed with pet projects, but may see Graves’ plan as a way to write conservative ideas into legislation that Republicans can pass without Democrats’ support.
Justin Bogie, a senior policy analyst in fiscal affairs at The Heritage Foundation, said regular order is better but the timing change looks like a good option.
“While it would be preferable to pass 12 individual appropriations bills through regular order where the merits of each can be fully debated, that is unlikely to happen given the time constraints that Congress is facing,” Bogie said in an email to The Daily Signal, adding:
Assuming that Rep. Graves’ approach followed conservative priorities such as abiding by the fiscal year 2018 Budget Control Act spending cap, removing the separate defense and nondefense category [spending] caps and increasing defense funding by reforming domestic programs, and following the guidelines laid out by the president’s budget proposal, this could be an acceptable solution.
The Budget Control Act, passed in 2011, sought to curb government spending and control the growth of federal programs, as Bogie wrote in a recent op-ed. It capped spending at $1.07 trillion for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1.
“I don’t know that it would really change regular order, because we haven’t been following regular order lately anyway,” Bogie said of the Graves plan.
Graves said he isn’t concerned with how the Senate might view the change.
“Whenever you have a big idea in the House, the first reaction is ‘The Senate can’t handle it,’” Graves told The Daily Signal, adding:
You hear that from everybody. I can only speak to the House and what I hope we can do. This is a herculean task, I get it. But we shouldn’t shy away from bold ideas and doing things differently.