Ask many Americans today about the appropriations process and you’ll either receive a look of bewilderment or an opinion formulated and predicated on the incessant use of “shutdown clocks” by news outlets. As the clock once again winds down to the next funding deadline of March 23rd, there is no shortage of pundits or budget reform advocates who deem the process “broken.”
While true that the political process has encountered quite a few challenges and hiccups lately, the work of appropriations has gone on, largely unabated. Though not glorified in the press, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees and its dedicated professional staff have achieved remarkable successes over the past few months. In an uncertain and highly partisan political environment, the committees were able to meticulously weave together bi-partisan pieces of legislation to address a multitude of problems facing the American people. Whether it was providing critical support for our dedicated troops overseas, addressing the needs of our rural health care providers and community health centers here at home, or delivering tens of billions of dollars in hurricane and wildfire relief to impacted communities across Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and California amongst others, the appropriations committees more than followed through on their constitutional duties and responsibilities — all the while under a “process” dictated by forces largely beyond their control.
Simply rendering the process broken overlooks the fundamental and critical work of the appropriations committee, and the impact their work has on nearly every facet of American life. While certain reforms are needed to the budgeting process, having a single-minded focus on discretionary spending ignores the larger symptom of a system that now funds over 66% of the government’s obligations in a manner that lacks annual accountability and oversight. One can hope that Congress will use the new Select Committee process to take a holistic view of the broader budgetary challenges our country now faces, working towards solutions that will ultimately leave today’s children less indebted than their parents.
In the meantime, the workhorse mentality of the appropriations committees continues. With the passage of a historic budget agreement this month, the committees are on a path to not only wrap up a long-awaited omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2018, but are concurrently laying the foundations for completing the Fiscal Year 2019 bills as well. Countless hours will be spent conducting proper oversight of taxpayer expenditures, drilling into the details of the President’s budget request, hammering administration witnesses, and drafting bills to ready for committee markup as early as this spring, well before the ink has dried on the Omnibus. The process will once again not be easy and be impacted by forces largely beyond their control, compounded by a truncated congressional schedule and an uncertain and fast approaching mid-term election.
The prediction here, however, is that the committee will yet again weather the storm, ultimately finish their work, and deliver for the American people.
Meanwhile, at Cornerstone Government Affairs, we have a substantial group of professionals with a long history of working for and with the appropriations committees. While that equates to a proven capability to navigate the unpredictable nature of the process, it also means that we take a strong personal interest in the success of a charge so clearly enumerated in the Constitution, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” We roll up our sleeves every day and have faith that Congress will take the aforementioned constitutional charge seriously, allowing the workhorses of the appropriations committees to do the same.