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October 25, 2010

First Test of New Congress: Appropriations

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The first spending test for politicians will happen soon after the November 2 congressional elections.  We’ll see if politicians will be responsive to the American people or whether they’ll go back to the free-spending ways of the past.

This battle will occur before a new Congress is sworn, during the so-called “Lame Duck” session.  Hold onto your wallet, because the angry members of Congress who lost will have one last shot to spend your money un-wisely in the Lame Duck session scheduled to start the second week of November.

Congress budgets on a fiscal year that starts on October 1 of every year, so the 2011 budget has already commenced for the federal government.  However, not one of the regular spending bills has passed Congress to date, so Congress is operating now under something called a temporary Continuing Resolution.  Because that resolution expires on December 3, Congress has to either pass another temporary spending measure by that date or finish work on all appropriations bills.

Congress is scheduled to come back into session on November 15 for this purpose and to consider undone legislation and to complete the annual appropriations process. Members are expected to attempt to complete the 12 annual appropriations bills that keep the federal government running.  Leaders in Congress are rolling all of the undone appropriations work into one massive spending bill called the Omnibus.  It is expected to be loaded by Senate liberals with special-interest projects and cost in excess of $1 trillion.

In the Senate, Republican appropriators opposed all 11 individual appropriations bills that were considered by the Senate Appropriations committee (one wasn’t considered), because those bills spent $6 billion more than Republicans wanted.  According to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell as quoted in Congressional Quarterly, the funding levels suggested by Senate Republicans would have saved $300 billion for taxpayers over the next 10 years.

Phil Kerpen, vice president of Americans for Prosperity, told CQ he’s worried that senators in their last days as elected members may team up with free-spending Democrats to get the bloated, special-interest earmark and pork-laden trillion-dollar Omnibus bill passed over conservative objections.

Kerpen named retiring Senators Robert Bennet (R.-Utah), George Voinovich (R.-Ohio), and Judd Gregg (R.-N.H.) as the Republicans most likely to join liberals to pass the pork-filled liberal version of the Omnibus.

Conservatives believe the smart move for Congress would be to toss aside the Omnibus and pass a pared-down, earmark-free Continuing Resolution to keep spending at low levels until newly elected members can be sworn in in January.

Lame-Duck Senators

Voters November 2 will elect three senators to serve the remainder of the terms of the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, of President Obama’s former Senate term in Illinois and Vice President Biden’s former Senate term in Delaware.  The winners of those special elections on November 2 will be immediately sworn in and can vote in the lame-duck session.
If conservative-leaning senators win one or more of those seats, it will be difficult for the Senate to railroad through action on a bloated Omnibus spending bill, cap-and-tax legislation to address so-called Climate Change and the New START Treaty that will handcuff important national security efforts to deploy a vibrant missile-defense network in Europe.

Changing the Culture of Congress

The Heritage Foundation is producing a report this week that maps out immediate reforms for the internal working of the Republican and Democratic caucuses for both the House and Senate.  These reforms will empower rank-and-file members of both parties to have more of a say in committee assignments and the inner deliberations of decisions of their respective parties.

Ernest Istook, a former congressman from Oklahoma who is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, tells HUMAN EVENTS that this report will include recommendations to prevent “members of Congress from surrendering much of their independence to congressional leaders during the process of organizing before a new Congress is sworn in.”  Right now, too much power resides in the elected leadership of both parties.

Brian Baker of Taxpayers Against Earmarks has suggested a two-year ban on, or a permanent swearing off of, the corrupting and wasteful earmarking process by both parties.  Such reforms would show that both parties are hearing the Tea Party movement and providing more of a say for newly elected members of Congress.

Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in Human Events

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