Thursday, October 03, 2013

Pieces of the Pie

The latest Republican gambit to extract themselves out of their own self-destructive shutdown technique (other than blaming federal employees for the GOP's own decision to refuse to pass a clean budget bill) is to pass piecemeal bills that fund certain high profile federal programs, like national parks and cancer research on sick kids. It is of course breathtakingly cynical, and Democrats are right not to take the bait.

But my question is this: why can't Democrats volley this back the same way they've done to the House "defund Obamacare" packages? Take the House bill which funds just parks and research and veterans programs, amend it to add back every other program, pass that, and then send it right back to the House? It seems like that would neutralize the gambit pretty effectively. Hell, add back in some money to food stamps and leave out farm subsidies. If we're going to fund the government "piecemeal", well, an entire pie is technically a "piece"; especially if you shave off a few crumbs of corporate welfare.


EW said...

The Constitution requires all spending proposals to initiate in the House. I think this means that the Senate can strip out, but not add, spending proposals.

More broadly – Who is engaging in hostage-taking now? The House’s current strategy of funding things piecemeal may seem cynical under the circumstances – but arguably this is the way legislation SHOULD work. That is, we should expect relatively small, focused bills, and we should expect the House and Senate will occasionally disagree about them. Only those things that have the assent of both bodies move forward. There’s nothing inappropriate about one body declining to approve funding for things if they don’t regard funding those things as prudent.

The Senate criticized the House for “hostage-taking.” Why? Because the House seemed to indicate that it approved of funding government (at sequester levels), but refused to do so unless it could get unrelated policy changes adopted. That is, the House was acting not to promote its interest directly, but rather to hurt someone else’s interests as a means to extract unrelated concessions from them.

But now the shoe is on the other foot. Both the House and Senate have indicated that they approve of, for example, funding national parks. Yet now it’s the Senate that is refusing to approve such funding unless the House agrees to fund unrelated matters as well. That is, the Senate is holding the national parks hostage as a means to fund the IRS, SEC, FTC, etc.

PG said...

"That is, we should expect relatively small, focused bills, and we should expect the House and Senate will occasionally disagree about them."

Why should we expect that? Was it *ever* the historical practice of the US Congress, going back to days when the federal government had squat to do with national parks, children's cancer treatment, etc., to fund the government only in individual bills that each funded a single thing? I find it implausible that having decided that we needed a War Department, a State Department, a Treasury and an Attorney General (the 4 parts of Washington's original Cabinet), we subsequently funded each program of each of them separately each year in separate legislation rather than in a single budget. Maybe some members of the House wanted a diplomatic representative in Paris but not one in the Hanseatic Republics, yet nonetheless instead of having funding for each in a separate bill, they all got lumped together.

"No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time." -- The Constitution

The president has been obligated since 1921 by the Budget and Accounting Act the President of the United States to submit his budget request to Congress for the following fiscal year. Why would we expect Congress then to break up that budget request into thousands of separate bills?

If the House genuinely doesn't think there ought to be funding of the federal agencies that protect our borders, check our food and drugs and meat for safety, prosecute child porn distributors, etc., then they ought to pass a law to that effect. Instead, they passed continuing resolutions that continue to fund all those things, and just strip funding for the Affordable Care Act, or some aspect thereof. It would be a great success for the Democratic Party if the GOP stood up for hardcore fiscal libertarianism (but of course not social) and a miniscule federal government.

EW said...

"That is, we should expect relatively small, focused bills, and we should expect the House and Senate will occasionally disagree about them."

Ok, I phrased that argument inartfully.

My point is that the House practice of voting on funding one item at a time does not necessarily constitute “hostage taking.” The House is entitled to refrain from funding whatever aspect of government it thinks should not receive federal funds. If Representatives decline to fund the prosecution of child pornographers, those Representatives will have to answer to the voters for this choice in the next election. That’s how representative democracy works.

If, in contrast, the House actually wants to fund prosecutions but refrains from doing so as a means of extracting concessions regarding unrelated matters, that’s hostage-taking. We suspect that law-and-order Republicans will favor the prosecution of child pornographers, so if we observe them withholding funds for such prosecutions, we may suspect that they have ulterior motives.

But many Republicans have reservations about environmental regulations. If Republicans decline to vote to fund enforcement of environmental regulations, does that constitute hostage-taking? Or is that just a bona fide political dispute, to be resolved at the ballot box?

Consider the last shut-down: The Gingrich Congress passed a budget that included funding for social safety net programs, albeit at lower levels than Clinton wanted. Clinton vetoed the budget – not because he objected to anything that was in the budget, but because he objected to things that were NOT in the budget. By my analysis, Clinton held the entire budget hostage in order to get things that were NOT in the budget (the restored level of funding for social safety net programs). And he got his way.

“Instead, [the House] passed continuing resolutions that continue to fund all those things, and just strip funding for the Affordable Care Act, or some aspect thereof.”

By my analysis, that would NOT constitute hostage-taking. The situation you describe merely involves the House declining to fund things it does not want to expend federal dollars for.

But that’s not what happened, because ObamaCare is mostly self-funding. Rather, the House repeatedly voted to pass the budget, but also to change ObamaCare which has almost nothing to do with the budget. This suggests that the House has no problem with the budget; the House simply has problems with other laws, and was using the budget as leverage. That’s hostage-taking.