Arguably, Congress’s most important power is the power of the purse. Through funding bills, Congress has an important opportunity to set the direction of the government. Founding Father James Madison called it “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people”.
Unfortunately, in recent years, Congress has failed at this basic constitutional responsibility. For far too long, Congress has operated from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis, putting off passing government funding bills until the last possible minute.
Even worse, Congress has also fallen into a bad habit of just passing short-term spending bills known as Continuing Resolutions (CR) that simply hold federal spending in place. This is exactly what happened just a few weeks ago. I voted against that bill because it’s unacceptable to operate the government in that manner.
Fortunately, for the first time since 2009, the House last week passed all twelve of the individual government funding bills before the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. Only in Washington would simply doing your job be considered a major accomplishment, but this was a big breakthrough in the government funding process and it is important to enacting President Trump’s agenda.
For example, our funding bills crack down on illegal immigration and fully fund President Donald Trump’s request for the border wall. The bills also roll back burdensome regulations, provide a raise to our troops, defund Planned Parenthood, cut funds to the IRS and EPA, and boost funding for medical research.
While I am proud we got the job done, we still have a lot of work to do. For example, Congress has still not even passed a budget for Fiscal Year 2018 yet, and the Senate has yet to consider even a single funding bill.
I want to take a minute to clarify the difference between the federal budget and the funding bills. While the terms are often interchanged, they are actually very different.
The budget is more of an aspirational document that does not carry the force of law, but it serves as a blueprint for the funding bills. Even more, the budget submitted each year by the President is truly just a recommendation that Congress uses to draft our own budget. Even still, the budget is important because it sets topline spending levels and provides a more long-term budget outlook.
The funding bills are where the money is actually spent. These are very specific bills that lay out line item appropriations for most government agencies and programs. The funding bills run on the fiscal year calendar, so from October 1st to September 30th each year. If the funding bills are not passed before September 30th, a government shutdown occurs.
When the process works like it is supposed to, the president submits his budget request in February, the House and Senate pass budget resolutions by the middle of the year, and then pass the twelve individual funding bills by September 30th.
We must return to this process. When the system is broken, as it currently is, it makes it much harder to set federal priorities and cut down on wasteful or unnecessary government programs. This is why I think it is so important we return to regular order and get our work done on time.
I understand it is difficult to make spending decisions in today’s tight budget environment, but the American people elected us to make difficult choices. While I’m glad the House got our work done this year, we must keep pushing to fix the overall process and restore fiscal sanity in Washington.
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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.