The Coming Budget Revolution

It’s been percolating for some time, as he’s been proposing it even prior to the election, but Speaker-to-be John Boehner is about to become a hated man among the insider clique in Washington if he goes through with his plan to break the federal budget process up into tiny splinters.

Boehner has said he wants to institute budgeting for every federal agency separately. No longer is the House going to cram all the appropriations process into one omnibus piece of legislation and force members to hold their nose and vote against a government shutdown; instead, Boehner’s budget process will include dozens of votes and create a real opportunity to de-fund and even eliminate wasteful or counterproductive agencies and programs.

Of course, that would constitute change in Washington. Major change. Mind-bending, inconceivable change, in fact, for the people invested in the way things are currently done.

Not surprisingly, they don’t like it.

POLITICO has a story on Boehner’s initiative, with some quotes from (naturally) anonymous staffers and old-guard Congressmen indicating they don’t think this will work. Here was one of our favorites:

“John should talk with the professional appropriators about the complexities, rather than talk off the top of his head. His plans would take a huge amount of the House’s time, but what would it accomplish?” said a dubious former House Republican member of the Appropriations Committee who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The word is that Boehner has unleashed a Saturday Night Massacre of sorts on the Appropriations committee, targeting its current leadership for elimination and bringing in a whole new cast of characters. So the above quote is in all likelihood a personal reaction from one of the disgruntled victims.

But even if it isn’t, who cares? The current process involves 12 subcommittee chairmen in House Appropriations being in charge of 12 giant pieces of the budget. Those committee chairmen are called the “12 cardinals,” and the result of letting “cardinals” of both parties assemble the budget with input from lobbyists and congressional appropriators, largely away from the attention of the public, is an incontinent, disgraceful and ruinous federal budget more than a trillion dollars in the red. If the defense of that process is that putting the budget on the House floor on an agency-by-agency basis is too time-consuming, that’s no defense at all.

The public certainly expects the federal government to go under intense scrutiny. If this veteran appropriator thinks that’s too hard, then he should go home to his chicken ranch and let people willing to actually do their jobs in Congress have a try.

Another gem of a quote in the POLITICO piece, this one from a Democrat appropriator:

“On the practical side, it has to be nuts. Given the difficulty in passing the current bills, adding these changes would be a dream world. … There could be a revolt by members, who will want to get home and campaign.”

A quote like this makes it almost impossible not to like Boehner – and not to hate the source of this one. The reason the current appropriations bills are so hard to pass is they’re usually bad bills. They involve spending money the government doesn’t have on things the Constitution doesn’t authorize the government to do. In most cases they take away freedom and they hurt the economy.

And if it weren’t for the fact that the current process forces all those bad bills into one budget, few – if any – of them would survive on the House floor.

As for the idea of a revolt – bring it on. Boehner has to be licking his chops at the prospect of Jim Moran, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Jose Serrano – or even Hal Rogers or Jerry Lewis – whining about how hard it is to change the way they do business. For example, let’s let Rosa DeLauro, the Connecticut Democrat who currently chairs the Agriculture subcommittee in Appropriations, scream bloody murder because Boehner demands separate bills for the USDA, FDA and Commodities Future Trading Commission which must all go to the floor separately. And let’s let those budgets come under scrutiny from the whole House, where hotshot freshman congressmen looking to make headlines can pore through them line by line, offering amendments to kill stupid programs which waste money and exceed the federal government’s constitutional mandate.

You’ve got to love this quote, too…

“The [suggested] changes may be easier to follow and make more sense” than the existing practices, said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “As long as members can make a case for or against a particular program, they will have the basis for objective decisions.”

Indeed. Schatz also notes that House members will have plenty of time to work on a more detailed process since “they won’t be working on earmarks.”

In short, what Boehner is going to do is so bottle up the House in revamping the budget that there won’t be much time for radical policy changes like the DREAM Act, Card Check or any of those other legislative boondoggles. The good news is that in a GOP-led House most of that legislation would never make it to the floor anyway; a full concentration on the budget would also mean there won’t be time for divisive legislation on things like gay marriage and capital punishment – most of which are more properly local issues anyway. The days of House members writing legislative monuments to themselves when the country’s fiscal house is burning down are rightfully over.

And that’s a good thing.

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