Fund the Government for a Whole Year
Once again, the specter of a government funding fight haunts the halls of Congress. Lawmakers must pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) by month's end to keep the wheels of government moving full-speed ahead.
Funding government is the most basic administrative task of Congress, one that is always fraught with political landmines and partisan headaches. This time around, the job is complicated by outrage over funding for Planned Parenthood (currently under fire for allegedly selling fetal body parts for profit), the need to raise the debt limit, and deep disagreement over whether Congress should exceed its self-imposed spending limits.
That's a lot of thorny issues to untangle in a very short period of time.
Folks concerned with fiscal responsibility know these end-of-year funding fights are dangerous indeed. Frequently they end up as pork-laden fun-fests — thousand-page bills filled with sweetheart line items for K Street lobbyists, corporations, and political allies. Often they turn on backroom deals where middle-class priorities are chucked out the window without so much as a consultation with rank-and-file members.
The government must be funded at all costs, we are told. Unfortunately, it's taxpayers who must bear all those costs.
This year's go-round appears to be no different. What makes it worse is that the plan now under discussion by congressional leadership — a very short-term CR — would land Congress in an even hotter, more dangerous funding crucible just three months down the line.
Forget April. December is the cruelest month for responsible funding decisions — a time when wills wane and the desire to get out of town for the holidays prevails over any impulse to put up a protest on behalf of the taxpayer. 'Tis the season of the very worst backroom deals.
Yet that's the path that Senate Republican leadership seems intent on pursuing. They've announced their intent to negotiate with Harry Reid to determine how the government will be funded — and a short-term CR would certainly give the Democrats more leverage when fiscal pressures ratchet up again in December. It all but guarantees that spending restraint and conservative fiscal priorities will be seriously compromised.
Here's the scenario: Extensive horse-trading with congressional liberals and the White House results in Republican leaders' agreeing to raise the debt limit and bust congressional spending caps in a short-term CR. Along the way, policies that benefit Main Street will be weakened or abandoned, and future Congresses will be encumbered with higher spending precedents — all in the name of having President Obama sign a bill.
Remember, the Republican leadership now so willing to accommodate liberal priorities in spending negotiations spent much of this last year telling conservatives that their priorities needed to wait.
Earlier this month, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a hometown radio station that defunding Planned Parenthood was an issue that "awaits a new president" — one who won't veto the legislation. Yet earlier, the Senate spent two and a half weeks passing legislation to authorize the Keystone Pipeline, knowing full well that President Obama would veto it.
For some reason, leadership feels principled legislation should be jettisoned if it would "complicate" CR negotiations. Yet must-pass bills are the perfect vehicle for principled — and popular — provisions that might otherwise be vetoed.
Rather than cave in while pleading urgency and expedience, congressional leadership should leverage that urgency and expedience to advance its own priorities. Forget about a 90-day, Obama-driven, short-term funding vehicle. Instead, Congress should pass a year-long CR that ends Planned Parenthood subsidies while funding the rest of the government at existing levels.
A one-year CR would carry the federal government through almost to that "new president" Senator McConnell anticipates. He's told conservatives to hold out for the prospect of a conservative president in 2017. It's time the Republican leadership started heeding their own advice.
A ten-year veteran of House and Senate policy battles, Rachel Bovard is the Heritage Foundation's director of policy services.