Tag: appropriations

Congress Doesn’t Get A Parade For Only Enacting 5 Appropriations By October 1

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Something very unusual happened on October 1: Fiscal 2019 began with 5 of that year’s 12 appropriations enacted into law.

Some federal budget watchers and appropriations boosters thought this was a monumental achievement that warranted the Congress getting the Washington D.C. equivalent of a ticker-tape parade. It was, they said, a truly stunning development given that the last time a single appropriation (let alone 5) was enacted by the start of the year was for fiscal 2010 when Congress’s own funding was approved on September 30th, 2009.

I wasn’t impressed at all.

Here’s why.

1. Passing appropriations by the start of the fiscal year is what Congress is supposed to do. Praising it for completing a routine action is like giving it a trophy just for participating in rather than winning a tournament.

2. Completing work on 5 appropriations means that 7 weren’t enacted by the start of the fiscal year. At best, that 42 percent would earn Congress an “incomplete” in most high schools, colleges and universities in America. In the courses I teach at Georgetown University (including a graduate-level class on the federal budget), I would have given Congress an “F” and not thought twice about it.

3. Closely related to #2 is that, yet again, Congress needed a continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown for the agencies and departments not covered by the 5 enacted appropriations. As any federal employee will tell you, this is one of the worst possible ways to manage what the government does and how it does it.

4. To get them enacted by October 1, Congress had to perform some legislative magic by turning the 5 appropriations into 2 appropriations right before our eyes.  This congressional sleight-of-hand allowed the spending in these two bills to get far less scrutiny than if regular order had been followed and they had been debated and passed individually.

5. This lack of scrutiny meant that Congress was able to do business the old-fashioned way — by buying votes with billions of dollars of additional military and domestic spending and further increasing the budget deficit and national debt. And does anyone doubt that at least some of this additional spending was directed to particular congressional districts and states? In other words, the enactment of these 5 (or was it 2?) fiscal 2019 appropriations very likely marked the triumphant return of the previously banned and supposedly evil earmarks.

For all these reasons, not only does Congress not merit a marching band and floats parading down Pennsylvania Avenue, it actually deserves to be condemned.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy

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This Is The Week We Find Out If Trump Is A Shutdown Blowhard

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The federal government will shut down a week from today if Donald Trump carries out his often-made threat to veto the continuing resolution that will prevent Washington from turning into a pumpkin on September 30th at midnight.

So…at least as far as this shutdown is concerned…we’re finally going to find out whether Trump is all talk and no action since he swore this past March never to sign another funding bill without money for the wall he wants built between the United States and Mexico.

To be fair, Trump has also often made threats over the past six months not to cause a government shutdown. As I’ve been posting (most recently here), where Trump stands on shutting down the government on any day has been anything but consistent. When it comes to a shutdown, what he has said and when he has said it has had no relation to what he has said the day before.

It’s very possible that Trump has been doing nothing more than pounding his chest the past few months.

But with the new fiscal year set to start next Monday and only 3 of the 12 appropriations enacted, it’s finally put-up-or-shut-up time for Trump.

At this point there are few facts and lots of speculating about this situation.

The facts:

1. Congress combined two – for the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services — of the remaining 2019 appropriations into a single bill. That combined appropriation has already passed the Senate and presumably will be adopted this week by the House week.

2. The GOP congressional leadership added a continuing resolution for the seven appropriations that will not be adopted by September 30th to this DOD-HHS “minibus.” That CR will keep all the agencies and departments in those seven bills funded until December 7th.

3. The DOD-HHS-CR includes no new funds for Trump’s wall.

4. Trump’s most recent statement on the shutdown came when he tweeted late last week that the DOD-HHS-CR bill that doesn’t provide the $5 billion he wants for his wall is “ridiculous.”

So, with less than a week to go, there’s a clear need for a CR but no way to know what Trump will do.

The Speculation:

As Amber Phllips (@byamberphillips) reported last week in The Washington Post, the speculation about what Trump will do is rampant.

1. On the one hand, congressional Republicans don’t want a shutdown before the election and Trump supposedly has agreed to wait until the December 7th deadline to push the wall issue.

2. On the other hand, in a very Trumpian fashion, the president has indicated several times since meeting with Ryan and McConnell that he might not be willing to wait until December to get the funding he wants.

3. As much as he needs to work with the GOP leadership, Trump seems to be taking his cues on this issue as much from Sean Hannity and other conservative commentators as he is from Ryan and McConnell.

4. It’s possible that Trump realizes both that Ryan and McConnell have been playing him for close to two years about funding for his wall and that getting what he wants after the election will be more difficult than it will be now.

5. It’s also possible…and perhaps even likely…that Trump will see a fight over funding for his wall as the best way to reinvigorate the immigration issue in a big way before the election.

6. And it’s definitely possible that Trump will see a shutdown next week as a great way to divert attention away from Mueller, Manafort, Cohen, Bob Woodard’s book and the Kavanaugh nomination, especially if the Kavanaugh nomination doesn’t go well.

But it’s also very possible that Trump has been doing nothing more than pounding his chest the past few months and in the end will prove he’s a blowhard by doing nothing more than signing the CR and claiming a great victory.

We’ll know the truth in just days.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy.

Check Out This Great Discount To “Political Wire” Exclusively For TheBudgetGuy Readers!

 

 

 

 

GOP Congress Gives Trump Its Middle Finger

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No, it’s not oversight hearings into…well…anything.

And it’s certainly not a subpoena, legislation to protect the Mueller investigation or the rejection of his Supreme Court nominee.

But the GOP congressional leadership’s decision last week not to give Donald Trump the $5 billion he wants for a wall between the United States and Mexico before the election and then to make it much harder for him to veto the legislation that codifies that decision was the closest House and Senate Republicans have come since Trump was elected to publicly giving him their collective middle finger.

First, Congress decided to combine several of the fiscal 2019 appropriations together both to deal with the very limited amount of time left before the government shuts down on October 1 and to make it more likely that the wide swath of programs funded in these small omnibus appropriations (hence the name “minibus”) would attract enough votes to pass the House and Senate.

This was an act of desperation and defiance by the Republican leadership.

Second, the GOP leadership then decided to attach the continuing resolution — the bill that will be needed to keep open the agencies and departments not included in either of the two minibuses — to the combined Defense-Health and Human Services appropriation. Given that the White House staff (but not Trump himself) has indicated that the president will sign that bill, the thinking was that this will reduce or even eliminate the chances of government shutdown before the election.

This was an act of desperation and defiance by the Republican congressional leadership. Knowing that they weren’t going to approve the billions of dollars Trump has been insisting on for his wall and that they would face his wrath when they didn’t, the GOP Congress made it significantly more painful for the president to react negatively when he didn’t get what he was demanding.

This has been coming for months given that the congressional Republicans’ political needs differ so sharply from Trump’s heading into the mid-term elections.

With polls showing the Republican control of the House and Senate increasingly at risk, a government shutdown is the last thing the GOP leadership wants five weeks before Election Day and just as early voting gets underway in many states.

Trump, on the other hand, may see a shutdown over his wall as the best way to raise the reddest of red meat issues — immigration — with his base.

And Trump’s need to energize his base took on increased importance last week with Paul Manafort’s plea deal, the release of Bob Woodward’s book and the continuing aftermath of the New York Times anonymous op-ed.

So far, Trump has been anything but consistent about a shutdown.

Trump may see a government shutdown as the most dramatic thing available to him right now to divert attention. Other very dramatic diversions, such as firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, all seem unlikely before the election.

He may also see it as part of his continuing anti-impeachment strategy to energize the voters he will need to keep Congress from moving forward.

What’s most interesting and potentially most politically significant about this are that the Republicans in Congress (1) decided to devise an appropriations strategy that unambiguously helps themselves rather than Trump, (2) didn’t accommodate the White House in even some small way and (3) challenged Trump so openly.

In addition, the congressional leadership did this not knowing whether it would work. As I noted in this post, So far, Trump has been anything but consistent about a shutdown and there’s no way to guarantee he will be more rational between now and October 1 than he has been so far.

Indeed, given Manafort et al., it may be safer to assume that he won’t be.

In other words, Trump could easily decide to reply to the congressional GOP’s middle finger by giving it right back to them.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy.

Check Out This Exclusive Discount For TheBudgetGuy Readers To Political Wire!

 

 

 

 

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.

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