Tag: appropriations

Trump’s Military Parade Is Already 767% Over Budget. Where’s Congress?

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CNBC is reporting that the military parade Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to stage this November is now projected to cost $92 million, $80 million more than the original $12 million estimate. That’s a 767 percent cost overrun.

Yes, $92 million is basically a rounding error (0.2 percent) when it comes to total federal spending.

But that doesn’t mean the Trump administration shouldn’t be required to detail what it’s planning to cut to pay for its parade. Unless the fiscal 2019 appropriations are increased to cover the parade-related costs, the $92 million will have to come from existing programs.

Congress – specifically the House and Senate Appropriations Committees — should be demanding that information immediately while the fiscal 2019 are still being debated.

And that has to come from the Republicans on those committees because they’re the only ones with any real power on this issue. Requests for information from Democrats about the parade’s costs are likely to be ignored or slow-walked by the White House.

So far there’s only been the sound of crickets from the GOP.

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Pruitt And Kennedy Leaving Increases The Chances Of Government Shutdown To Over 50%

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Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement two weeks ago that he will retire and Scott Pruitt’s resignation last week as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency has greatly increased the chances of a federal government shutdown this fall.

We were already barreling toward yet another government shutdown before the events of the last few weeks transpired to make it even more likely. As I’ve been posting for months (look here and here, for example), the very limited congressional action so far this year on the fiscal 2019 appropriations had already made it likely that Congress would again have to pass and the president sign a single funding bill — a continuing resolution — to keep the federal government open when the fiscal year began on October 1.

Trump’s inflexibility on the wall will likely get even worse this fall if he continues to need immigration-related issues to inflame his base.

But Congress adopting that CR was always going to be the relatively easy part. The more difficult would be getting President Trump to sign the bill. Trump has been insisting he won’t do it unless the House and Senate appropriate $25 billion for the wall he wants built between the United States and Mexico.

Over the past two years, the Republican-controlled Congress has refused to fund Trump’s wall multiple times and each time Trump has backed down.

At this point, however, Trump appears to be more adamant about carrying through on his veto threat, and Trump’s inflexibility on the wall will likely get even worse this fall if he continues to need immigration-related issues to inflame his base.

Congress was already facing an extreme time crunch on appropriations. Even with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) announcement that he was going to cancel the August recess this year, the Senate only had a very limited number of legislative days left before October 1.

But McConnell’s decision to cancel the August recess was made long before there was a need for the Senate to confirm a new Supreme Court justice and a new administrator for the Environmental Protection Administration. At that point, McConnell just wanted the Senate to deal with other pending (especially judicial) nominations and…wait for it…fiscal 2019 appropriations.

Kennedy/Pruitt totally changes this equation. Although approving a new EPA administrator can be delayed until the all-but-certain lame duck session of Congress in November and December, confirming the Supreme Court nominee before the election is now Trump’s and McConnell’s highest legislative priority.

That pushes the fiscal 2019 appropriations down to no better than third with the Kennedy replacement and other nominations both higher in the pecking order. They could even be fourth if the new EPA administrator confirmation is also considered a must-be-done-before-the-election activity.

All of this will make it much less likely that any of the individual 2019 appropriations will be adopted by the start of the fiscal year and, therefore, that a CR will be needed to keep the government open.

And that will play directly into Trump’s hands by making his weapon of choice — a veto of a CR — more powerful.

Had Congress made the 2019 appropriations a priority before Kennedy/Pruitt, it would have already reduced the value of the Trump veto threat.

But because the GOP House and Senate leadership didn’t do that, the Kennedy retirement and Pruitt resignation means that a CR and the chance of a Trump veto over funding for the wall is much more likely.

That makes the chances of a shutdown this fall at least 50 percent now, and likely to go up even further in the days ahead.

Coming This Thursday

Yes, Trump Absolutely Will Shut Down This Government This Fall

There’s much more here right now:

The House and Senate Appropriations Committee Are A Total Disgrace

The Definitive Larry Kudlow Take Down

Congress Could Use The Budget Process To Stop Trump’s Child Separation Policy

You’ve Been Warned: Trump’s Trillion Dollar Budget Deficits Are Here To Stay

The House & Senate Appropriations Committees Are A Total Disgrace

This post is dedicated to and was inspired by Norm Ornstein, one of the most highly respected congressional scholars in the world who has written some of the most influential and prescient books ever published on Congress (here, here and here for example).

One of Norm’s chief complaints since the start of the Trump administration has been that the GOP House and Senate majorities have been enabling what the White House has been doing.

Norm’s most scathing criticism has been when its obvious that one or more cabinet departments or agencies and their secretaries, administrators or directors have been violating federal law and Congress has done nothing. (Just think about Scott Pruitt’s multiple scandals at the Environmental Protection Agency and the complete lack of meaningful congressional oversight and you get the picture.)

Here’s one of Norm’s recent devastating tweets on the lack of GOP congressional oversight:

Given that I typically focus on the federal budget, my main Ornstein-inspired complaint not surprisingly is with the GOP-controlled House and Senate Appropriations Committees: They aren’t just enabling Trump but, by refusing to do their jobs, have to be considered complicit in this administration’s nefarious activities.

Serving on appropriations used to be considered a high honor with great power and responsibility. As a member of the committee with the power of the purse, your job was to make sure that tax dollars were spent wisely and legally. As an elite member of an equal branch of the government, you were there to be a check on the president — that is, on every president — whose typical tendency is to try to get around congressional priorities and restrictions.

No more.

Since the start of the Trump administration, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have abandoned their traditional responsibility as a check on the executive branch. Because of their refusal to do anything that smells like oversight, the Trump White House and its cabinet departments and agencies have run amok when it comes to following appropriations law.

Here are just four examples.

Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency is obviously exhibit A. He may now be gone, but that doesn’t excuse the appropriations committees from not repeatedly demanding that he explain in detail how his agency’s spending on everything from first class airfare to ridiculous increases in personal security to a “Get Smart” cone-of-silence (see below) in his office complied with EPA’s existing 2018 appropriation.

The committees should also be including language in the fiscal 2019 appropriation specifically prohibiting any funds to be used for these and other similar purposes…But they’re not.

Exhibit B is all the money being spent on implementing the Trump administration’s policy to separate children from their parents at the border. The Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security as well as the Pentagon are almost certainly spending way more than was appropriated to them for this purpose but, so far at least, the only thing we’ve heard from the committees about this is the congressional equivalent of crickets.

In the past, the appropriations committees almost always required the departments to get their permission to shift funds between accounts and required that they at least informally approve all significant transfers away from previously requested and enacted priorities.

Exhibit C is Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s excessive shopping spree for new office furniture. Where’s the appropriations’ outrage?

Exhibit D is the House and Senate Appropriations Committees looking the other way when the State Department refused to spend the funds provided to it to investigate Russian meddling in the U.S. elections. As I first explained back in March, this was an action that under the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act absolutely required House and Senate approval.

But the appropriations committees did nothing.

There’s also the committees’ enabling Trump to shut down the federal government this fall.

By slow-walking the fiscal 2019 spending bills rather than demanding they be a priority, the appropriations committees are virtually guaranteeing that a continuing resolution that funds most or all departments and agencies will be needed. That will give Trump substantial additional leverage to get the $25 billion he wants (but the House and Senate have repeatedly refused to provide) to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and, with a single veto, shutdown the government.

All of this is total departure from how the appropriations committees used to act.

Allowing the White House to unilaterally spend more or less than is allowed or required makes a mockery of the appropriations process.

Continuing resolutions were always something the committees desperately tried to avoid rather than use as a plan B. Instead, enacting individual appropriations was always their prime goal.

Reprimanding a cabinet official when he or she was repeatedly violating appropriations law was the committees’ standard operating procedure so that the other heads of the other departments and agencies didn’t dare consider doing the same thing.

Norm Ornstein used the “word” disgrace in his tweet above. It’s not a stretch to think that he would agree with my assessment that, these days, it also amply applies to the House and Senate Appropriation Committees.

There’s much more here:

The Definitive Larry Kudlow Take Down

Congress Could Use The Budget Process To Stop Trump’s Child Separation Policy

You’ve Been Warned: Trump’s Trillion Dollar Budget Deficits Are Here To Stay

Fasten Your Seat Belts: It’s Going To Be A Very Bumpy Rest Of The Year In Washington

This Was The Worst Week EVER For GOP Federal Budget Nonsense

 

There was so much Trump White House-caused and GOP Congress-induced nonsense (and definitely I’m pulling my punches here) last week on almost everything having to do with the federal budget that it’s impossible to pick the worst of the lot.

Maybe it was Donald Trump confirming what budget wonks like me have been predicting for some time: There’s a real chance he’ll throw a tantrum this fall and shutdown the federal government if he doesn’t get the $25 billion dollars he wants for his wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Or maybe it was the president telling the Pentagon to start a new space force (Flash Gordon lives! See below) even though Congress hasn’t provided an appropriation for it.

Perhaps it was that (contrary to recently established Republican and Trump orthodoxy that an authorization is needed for every appropriation) the Trump space force hasn’t even been authorized yet so no appropriation (according to the GOP) should be possible.

(FYI…Contrary to what Republicans say, there is no constitutional or statutory requirement for authorizations.)

It could be the House and Senate Appropriations Committees refusing to do their jobs by not asking where the White House is getting the money to pay for everything involved in separating children from their families.

Then again, it really could be the Senate’s outright rejection of one of Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s highest priorities — the first of what we’ve repeatedly been told will be multiple “rescission” bills.

The GOP Senate majority rejected the Trump rescission even though it would have mostly cut previously enacted appropriations that were never going to be spent anyway.

Of course, it could be the federal government consolidation plan that Mulvaney announced (and made sure he himself got credit for developing) but which at this point in the congressional session has little-to-no chance of being considered and even less of being adopted.

(Consider this: Mulvaney couldn’t even get the GOP-controlled Senate to approve a rescission plan that was almost totally symbolic. How is he ever going to convince it to do a massive reorganization that will have a far more negative political impact?)

There was also the House Budget Committee’s approval of a fiscal 2019 budget resolution that was adopted more than two months after the statutory deadline for Congress as a whole — not just a committee — to agree on something.

But missing the deadline by two-plus months was actually far less ludicrous than the fact that the committee-approved budget resolution includes $5.4 trillion in politically unacceptable cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other mandatory programs that may never be voted on by the full House and won’t be considered by the Senate.

In other words, the House Budget Committee was both very late and doing something that was incredibly superfluous. Saying that it was “symbolic” is giving it way to much credit.

And all this happened just this past week.

 

There’s much more here:

Congress Could Use The Budget Process To Stop Trump’s Child Separation Policy

You’ve Been Warned: Trump’s Trillion Dollar Budget Deficits Are Here To Stay

Fasten Your Seat Belts: It’s Going To Be A Very Bumpy Rest Of The Year In Washington

Fasten Your Seat Belts: It’s Going To Be A Very Bumpy Rest Of The Year In Washington

In the midst of all of the tweet storms, special counsel and criminal investigations, deep state conspiracy paranoias, off and on summits, tariffs imposed on our allies and multiple pardons, it’s easy to forget that Congress and the White House still have routine legislative responsibilities — like appropriations — that will need to be completed over the next few months.

These legislative responsibilities could include the most contentious domestic issues the Republican-controlled Congress and Trump administration will have to deal with all year such as Planned Parenthood, immigration, a wall between the United States and Mexico and multiple highly contentious domestic spending cuts.

Each one’s political significance will be greatly magnified by the very narrow GOP Senate majority, the hyper-partisanship, a lame duck speaker, almost 50 GOP retirements in the House, an abandoned budget process, a very unpredictable president and an extremely high stakes congressional election that’s only five months away.

In other words…To paraphrase Betty Davis in “All About Eve,” Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy rest of 2018 in Washington.

According to Congress.gov, as of today, none of the 12 funding bills for fiscal 2019 have passed Congress.

It’s not unusual for no appropriations to be approved by now. But there’s usually more time between June and when the fiscal year begins on October 1 for Congress to do what needs to be done than there will be this year.

If the published schedules aren’t changed, the House now only plans to be in session for 35 more days before fiscal 2019 begins; the Senate only expects to be in session for 51 days, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated last week that some or all of the Senate’s August recess will be cancelled.

But 35, 51 or some other number very likely overstates the actual amount of time that will be available for legislative work given Congress’s tendency not to take many votes on Mondays and Fridays.

This very limited about of time would be problematic in a good year if House and Senate Republicans were working together, the House Freedom Caucus wasn’t making Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) final days as speaker miserable as it did on the recent agriculture bill and the president wasn’t demanding funds for a wall that Congress has refused to provide multiple times.

But with all of these things happening, the very limited amount of time that’s left makes “problematic” into the best-case scenario this year.

It also makes yet another continuing resolution – which in recent years has become the unfortunate but very standard operating procedure on Capitol Hill — an almost sure bet to be needed to prevent a government shutdown just before the election.

And because CRs can be filibustered, that will give Senate Democrats influence over a short-term funding bill that, with their changes, isn’t likely to be acceptable to the House Freedom Caucus or the White House.

In theory, Trump should want to do what Ryan and McConnell want: put a CR in place as early as possible so Congress can recess quickly and GOP incumbents running for reelection have as much time as possible to defend their seats.

In fact, Ryan and McConnell should be seriously considering doing a continuing resolution before the start of the August-Labor Day recess that will keep the government operating through the lame duck session so Congress can stay home in September as well.

But Trump is more likely to view his own congressional leadership’s strong desire to recess before the election as something that gives him leverage to get his wall rather than as a way to make continuing GOP House and Senate majorities more certain.

Add to that the extreme displeasure from conservative commentators after he signed the 2018 omnibus appropriation in March and the fact that healthcare and immigration are hot button issues for the White House, congressional Republicans and Democrats, having a CR in place in time to prevent a government shutdown has to be considered anything but certain.

But even if a continuing resolution is enacted by October 1, the road to get there will be anything but smooth. It is likely to set the new bar for bumpy rides in Washington.