Get ready for a lot of stories bemoaning the coming period of political gridlock in the federal government. Jacob S Hacker and Paul Pierson offer up a typical sample of the genre in The American Prospect. But it doesn’t have to be that way if the GOP in the House acts in a pro-government/small-government way.
A united GOP in the House could insist on a new paradigm for passing legislation, passing all the good stuff first. Yes, it gets less passed, but isn’t that the point? The House can, legitimately, say that it’s not shutting down the government. It can bang out funding for the essential programs in each department in the spring, pass (or not) the middle tier popularity programs in the summer, and then present the real stinkers in the fall, right before elections.
There would be no government shut down. The Parks people could not shut down Mt. Rushmore and the George Washington Monument because their operations would be funded. Programs that could not get a majority to vote for them would be shut down but that happens every year. It’s how the system is supposed to work.
The political choices for Democrats would be very unattractive. Their attempts to stuff in budget stinkers into the must-pass bill will be turned back with the reasonable explanation that the program is funded in a different bill and that it will get a vote, but not here. Once the early bills pass, government shutdown is averted.
Is the GOP going to be smart enough to create a better way to fund the government? I hope so. What concerns me is that nobody else seems to be talking about appropriation sequence passage reform.
Thanks to Bastiches in the comments who gave a pointer that led me to a September 30 speech by John Boehnor which I had not seen to now. The relevant section:
While the culture of spending stems largely from a lack of political will in both parties to say ‘no,’ it is also the consequence of what I believe to be a structural problem. As Kevin McCarthy often says, structure dictates behavior. Aided by a structure that facilitates spending increases and discourages spending cuts, the inertia in Washington is currently to spend — and spend — and spend. Most spending bills come to the floor prepackaged in a manner that makes it as easy as possible to advance government spending and programs, and as difficult as possible to make cuts.
Again, this is not a new problem. But if we’re serious about confronting the challenges that lie ahead for our nation, it’s totally inadequate.
I propose today a different approach. Let’s do away with the concept of “comprehensive” spending bills. Let’s break them up, to encourage scrutiny, and make spending cuts easier. Rather than pairing agencies and departments together, let them come to the House floor individually, to be judged on their own merit. Members shouldn’t have to vote for big spending increases at the Labor Department in order to fund Health and Human Services. Members shouldn’t have to vote for big increases at the Commerce Department just because they support NASA. Each Department and agency should justify itself each year to the full House and Senate, and be judged on its own.
It isn’t exactly what I’m talking about (the level of granularity is different and the sequencing idea is entirely absent) but it’s a very close cousin and that is much appreciated. This speech helps the tea party because even if Boehnor is not serious about the proposal now (tough to tell without actual reform legislation text), focused public pressure to support this would lead him and the rest of the GOP to run to the front of the parade. And if he is serious? We might end up with an actual small government party again under this kind of leadership. We certainly could use one.
In either case, this remains a good pressure point between now and January for small government activists to press for reform. And now it has the advantage that soon-to-be-speaker Boehner has come out on the right side.