Incoming House Speaker John Boehner is enacting a sweeping reform to the way the House will appropriate money to run the government. The main part of the reform will be to break up appropriations bills to cover separate agencies and departments.
According to Politico:
“House Republicans seem intent on blowing up the staid appropriations process when they take power in January – potentially upending the old bulls in both parties who have spent decades building their power over the federal budget.
“The plans include slicing and dicing appropriations bills into dozens of smaller, bite-size pieces – making it easier to kill or slash unpopular agencies. Other proposals include statutory spending caps, weekly votes on spending cuts and other reforms to ensure spending bills aren’t sneakily passed under special rules.”
In theory, each of the 12 appropriations sub-committees passes a bill funding all of the departments and agencies under their purview. For instance, the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science would fund the Departments of Commerce and Justice, as well as various science agencies such as NASA and the National Science Foundation.
The practical fact is that Congress has been so slow about passing appropriations bills that, as often as not, most of the departments and agencies of the government get funded in an omnibus spending bill, often passed weeks or months after the fiscal year actually begins.
Boehner proposes to go the other way and force the appropriators to consider each department and agency on their merits. Often lumping various, often unrelated parts of the government together in a single bill results in horse trading that in turn results in more spending. A member will vote for a Department of Commerce program if another member votes for a NASA program, for example.
Naturally, the chairmen of the various appropriations subcommittees, often known as “the cardinals” for the power they wield, are not happy. Nor are the reforms likely to be accepted by the Senate, still controlled by Democrats, or the White House.
Nevertheless, Speaker-to-Be Boehner appears to be on the right track, attempting to redefine how spending is done in the House to make it easier to restrain spending than to grow it. It’s a process reform, and certainly it will be judged by the product it creates. Some have suggested that Boehner’s proposal will slow things down even further, resulting in the same sort of omnibus spending legislation after the beginning of the fiscal year that has been a feature of the appropriations process.
While the new system will create more debate than legislation, because of divided government, it will cause members of Congress to start thinking of government programs on their merits by examining agencies and departments on an individual basis. If that mindset takes hold, Boehner will be considered one of the most reformist Speakers in history.
Source: GOP to upend spending process, Richard E. Cohen, Politico, December 2nd, 2010