Congress Is Aiming Toward Another Omnibus Spending Disaster. Here’s How To Prevent That

Congress Is Aiming Toward Another Omnibus Spending Disaster. Here’s How To Prevent That

We agree with President Trump: a spending bill like the one passed this March must never happen again. Unfortunately, Congress currently is on a path to repeat that debacle.
Mike Lee and Jim Jordan
By

“I will never sign another bill like this again,” President Trump said after signing last month’s 2,232-page, $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. President Trump is right. The omnibus bill Congress passed this March betrayed everything for which conservatives stand.

Not only did it bust the spending caps conservatives worked so hard to secure in 2011 by more than $250 billion, but it also failed to build the border wall President Trump promised during his campaign. The bill also included language limiting the ability of federal law enforcement officers to enforce our nation’s immigration laws. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi identified this limit as a huge win for California Democrats.

We fully agree with President Trump: a spending bill like the one passed this March must never happen again. Unfortunately, Congress currently is on a path to repeat this disbursement debacle.

While the House and Senate appropriations committees have both admirably begun the process of passing next year’s spending bills, congressional leaders have not yet indicated when they plan to give these bills the floor time they need to become law.

This virtually ensures the next spending bill will again be written behind closed doors and will not be made public until just days before it needs to be passed. Even then, we should not expect to see the bill until after the September 30 deadline. Instead, if the past decade of swamp-life is any indication, Congress will pass a continuing resolution that will extend funding for the federal government past the November election and into a December lame-duck Congress.

At that point, unless Republicans defy history by actually gaining seats, Democrats will have all the leverage in spending negotiations since they can promise Republicans will only get a worse deal when a far more progressive Congress is sworn in in 2019. That would be a recipe for a debacle even worse than the one Congress forced President Trump to sign in March.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is another path.

Republicans still control both chambers of Congress and the White House. The House could begin passing the 12 appropriations bills necessary to fund the government under the ordinary budget process. The Senate could then move to debate. Yes, at that point Democrats may try to block debate on appropriations bills. But let’s make them actually block debate!

Consider how this would work in practice. We could call up the Department of Defense appropriations bill and show the American public whether Democrats support paying the troops. If Democrats refused to begin debate on the appropriations bill, they then would have to explain why they were obstructing funding for our nation’s men and women in uniform.

We never even tried that last year. Instead we waited until we were already more than four months into the fiscal year before we held one vote to begin debate on the defense appropriations bill in February 2018. But as soon as that vote was held, we immediately tucked tail and moved on to other things. We didn’t fight, and the American people lost as a result.

Even if we don’t get all 12 appropriations bills passed in the Senate, at a bare minimum Congress should pledge to continually try to debate them and to cancel weekends and recesses to force more work.  If an omnibus is still necessary after Democrat obstruction over the next four months, Congress should then release its omnibus spending bill a month before the September 30 deadline. That way the American people will have time to read it and lawmakers will have time to debate, write amendments, and vote on changes to the bill.

President Trump could even get the whole process jumpstarted this month by submitting a rescission package to Congress identifying the spending he wants to cut from the last spending bill.

None of this is going to be easy, because governing is hard. There is no magic wand that President Trump can wave to produce a spending bill he would be proud to sign. But with some hard work and lots of tough votes, Congress can make sure that what happened last month never happens again.

Mike Lee is a U.S. senator from Utah. Jim Jordan is a U.S. representative from Ohio.

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