Funding the Government: The Budget Process and Omnibus Spending Bills [Article I Initiative]
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Funding the Government: The Budget Process and Omnibus Spending Bills [Article I Initiative]


Hello and good afternoon, everyone. Uh, I’m Nate Kaczmarek with the Federalist
Society’s Article I Initiative. Thank you all for coming. Initiative is committed to highlighting the
issues facing our modern legislative branch with an aim of exploring the causes of and
ra- resulting harms from its dysfunction. We’re also focused upon the possible solutions,
which can restore Congress to the strong co-equal body our founders intended. For today’s luncheon discussion, we’ve chosen
a complex but timely topic, the congres- congressional budget process and omnibus spending bills. Since 1970s, Congress has frequently forgone
traditional budgeting procedure and chosen to utilize omnibus spending bills. Omnibus packages offer members of Congress
an expedited voting process, combining several or even all twelve appropriations bills into
one decision, presented, presented to the whole. This methodology saves the legislative branch
a great deal of time, but it’s not without its critics. The humorist Will Rogers once quipped, “Congress
doesn’t vote on the bills, they just wave at them as they go by.” So, does the current appropriations process
and eventual omnibus legislation improve our Congress, how it functions, or does it weaken
it? And does the apparent efficiency come at the
expense of proper deliberation and scrutiny? To help us with these and other important
questions, we are fortunate to have two very knowledgeable experts with us today, and their
abbreviated bios are as follows. Professor Frances Lee is a professor of government
and politics at the University of Maryland, where she teaches courses in American government,
uh, the public policy process, legislative politics, political ambition, and political
institutions. Her research interests focus on American governing,
governing institutions, especially the US Congress. She is co-editor of the Legislative Studies
Quarterly, a scholarly journal specializing in, uh, you guessed it, legislators. Her most recent book was published last year
and is titled Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign. Her work, uh, has received national recognition,
including several prominent political science awards. Our other panelist is David Hoppe, who is
president of Hoppe Strategies, a strategic planning, lobbying, and political consulting
firm. He has twenty-nine years of experience on
the Hill, including directing whip offices in both the House and Senate. He led the Senate Majority Leader’s office
during the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations. Among several offices, he has worked with
House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator Jon Kyl, Senator Trent Lott, Congressman Jack Kemp,
and Senator Dan Coats. Thank you both for joining us. Before I turn it over to Professor Lee, please
note that following the panelists’ remarks, we will have question and answer from our
audience, so please do think about what you would like to ask our panelists. With that, I’ll turn it over to Professor
Lee. Thanks, thanks very much, Nate, for that nice
introduction. I’m very glad to be here and to be, uh, you
know, able to contribute to the Federalist Society’s Article I Initiative. So, it’s true, Congress has been struggling,
increasing difficulties with both appropriations and annual budgets. The problem has been escalating for some time
and it has been getting progressively worse. Um, by way of background, um, let me share
a couple of figures from Princeton political scientist, uh, Nolan McCarty. So, um, this displays, this figure displays
progress on the budget resolution. It’s, uh, the four steps, House passage, Senate
passage, uh, initial passage, then final passage, uh, of, uh, in each chamber. And as you can see, from 1976 to 1998, Congress
always successfully passed an annual budget resolution. Since 1998, Congress has only completed a
budget resolution half of the time, ten of the nineteen years, uh, or ten of the nineteen,
uh, uh, uh, Congresses. Two, uh, no, um, fiscal year ’18 budget has
cleared, uh, despite unified government this year. Uh, and then, likewise, Congress has also
had more difficulty passing appropriations bills. This figure displays how many appropriations
bills were on time. So, you should look for the, look for the
distribution to be centered over the zero. Uh, and then how many were, uh, two months
late, four months late, eight months late, et cetera after the start of the fiscal year. The figure on the left shows all the years
between 1974 and 2014. And as you can see here, the model bill, appropriations
bill, was three months late over the whole time period. In recent years, the whole distribution shifts
to the right. Most appropriations bills have been late. Very few have been completed on time since
2002. Now, the Senate is more of the reason for
these problems than the House. House as a majority rule institution and a
majority party that’s able to hang together is able to pass these bills. But both chambers have been having more and
more trouble as is evident in this figure from a 2015 Brookings Institution study by
Peter Hanson. The top two figures on the slideshow the proportion
of appropriations bills in the House and Senate on which no floor vote was called. The House, as you can see, clears a markedly
higher percentage of its bills than the Senate all through the period. But the trend of not taking floor votes on
appropriations bills has been increasing in both chambers. The bottom figure displays the use of omnibus
bills. Here, you can see the increase in the use
of those all through the time period. As of right now, the House has passed two
omnibus spending bills for fiscal year 2018, uh, and the Senate has, uh, passed none. So, the bottom line is that recent Congresses
often fail to pass, uh, budgets at all. They don’t take many votes on individual appropriations
bills and instead, they usually wind up using omnibus measures to fund the government usually
after the fiscal year begins. Now, I don’t think anyone can defend omnibus
legislating on the merits. This is not the way to capitalize on Congress’
strengths as a deliberative institution. These centralized processes don’t allow, uh,
input from rank-and-file members in the form of open debate and amendments. These ad-hoc highly centralized processes
like this do not take advantage of the expertise of committees who really know the issues. Incentives to be an expert appropriator have
declined. The chairmanship of appropriation is a less
desirable position than it used to be. They used to be the cardinals of the Congress,
uh, the, the chairman of these, uh, ap- appropriations subcommittees and their status is not what
it once was. But I don’t think it’s possible to just respond
to these patterns by exhorting Congress to go back to the regular order, even if the
regular order is preferable in theory. The reasons why regular order, uh, have, has
deteriorated go deep. Omnibus bills are often all Congress is capable
of doing. Intensifying partisan conflict in Congress
is the major culprit here. Conflict slows down any legislative body and
partisan conflict most of all. Uh, intense, rigid partisan conflict is especially
difficult for the Senate to manage, which has a long history of operating on the basis
of supermajorities and unanimous consent. Generally speaking, a Senate majority party
cannot adopt or even debate legislation without the minority party giving the green light. As the parties have polarized with the near
extinction of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, it becomes progressively more
difficult to legislate. But as we think through the political obstacles
that stand in the way of Congress adhering to regular order on appropriations, I’d like
to focus attention on, uh, an important contributing factor. One that in my view doesn’t receive enough
attention, namely the intense two-party competition for control of national institutions. Back in the 1960s, 1970s, it used to be conventional
wisdom to describe American politics as being made up of a sun party and a moon party. The first time I ran across this metaphor,
I had no idea of what it even meant. But this metaphor, uh, meant that, um, there,
there, it was normal for American politics to have a dominant party and a secondary party,
and for most of the important issues of the day to be worked out among factions within
the dominant party rather than between the two parties. But one of the most striking things about
American politics today is its ferocious party competitiveness. Since 1980, Republicans and Democrats have
each held the presidency about half the time. Likewise, in House and Senate since 1980,
Democrats have held the majority for nine Congresses and Republicans for ten Congresses. Divided government has been the normal, uh,
state of affairs. This, the evenness of today’s partisan balance
is not normal for US history. This first figure displays a simple measure
of two-party competition since the Civil War. Uh, all it is, is just it’s the average of
the Democratic Party’s share of House seats, Senate seats, and, uh, the Democratic Party’s
share of the two-party vote for president. I then take the difference from fifty, so
that I can show periods with Democratic majorities above the line and periods with Republican
majorities below the line. And taller lines mean that a party is more
dominant. So, as you can see here, the peak, the period
since 1980 stands out from this long time series, means beginning with the end of the
Civil War, for its narrow and switching majorities. The more typical pattern over this long period
is for one party to enjoy an advantage over the other. The Republicans were dominant in national
politics for a decade after the Civil War, and then again between 1896 and 1932. Democrats were similarly dominant for decades
after the New Deal. The period most similar to today’s competitive
environment was the partisan stalemate after the Hayes-Tilden contested election of 1876
until the elections of 1894. Those decades of the late 19th century are
probably the most analogous period to the present. Um, and like our era, it was also a period
of frequent divided government, intense partisan conflict, and, um, limited congressional productivity. Two, uh, two other exceptional periods worth
noting also circle down the figure. The Progressive Era split in the Republican
Party that generated party competition between 1910 and the so-called return to normalcy,
meaning normal Republican majorities with, uh, Harding’s landslide election in 1920. Before the present, the last major burst of
intense competition, uh, for control of Washington institutions lasted around a decade at the
middle of the 20th century from the loss of the Democratic majority at Truman’s first
midterm until there, the crushing Republican defeats in the 1958 midterms after which Democrats
held roughly two-to-one majorities in the House and the Senate. The second figure, uh, sums up and simplifies
the patterns. I’m just displaying the index’s divergence
from a fifty-fifty balance for each decade. The closer the bar to zero, the more competitive
the decade. The time since 1980 stands out as the longest
sustained period of near parity between the parties since the Civil War. In the post-1980, post-1994 era, control of
national institutions have been pervasively in play. And when I say in play, what I mean is that
both parties, when they’re out of power, see themselves as within striking distance of
retaking control. You can see this also in news coverage of,
of congressional elections. After 1980, I mean, after 1958 and before
1980, news coverage of congressional elections was focused on individual races or on states
or regions of the country, you know, what’s happening in that, uh, you know, in a particular
region would be the focus of a news story. Reporters did not write about the possibility
that the majority, uh, uh, majority control of Congress would switch. But as you see here, there’s much more preoccupation
with majority control in contemporary news coverage of Congress. Amazingly, there have already been a plethora
of news articles analyzing Democrats’, uh, 2018 chances. And those articles began to appear the week
after the 2016 elections. Presidential elections in the current era
have been very close not just in the popular vote but in the electoral college. This figure displays the winning presidential
candidate’s share of the electoral college vote. As you can see here, it was once typical for
presidential candidates to win all across the country and to amass large majorities
in the Electoral College. Between 1932 and 1988, the winning presidential
candidate received at least eighty percent of the Electoral College vote in ten out of
fourteen elections. Since 1988, no winner has come anywhere close
to getting eighty percent. There hasn’t been a presidential landslide
in nearly thirty years. So, how does this intense party competition
affect congressional incentives in budgeting and appropriations? I’m going to, uh, offer three implications. First, intense party competition drives members
and parties to focus on messaging efforts. A highly competitive political environment
strengthens the incentives of congressional leaders to focus on messaging, meaning positioning
themselves before external constituencies and looking for ways to score political points
against the opposition. In the Senate, this problem is especially
dysfunctional. Any time the majority party seeks to move
legislation, even must-pass bills, the minority demands amendments. Purpose of many of these amendments is purely
political, meaning that the messages are, the amendments are just for messaging purposes. No, no one expects them to result in change
of policy. The amendments are designed wherever possible
to embarrass the majority and put it on the wrong side of public opinion. One, uh, longtime Senate staffer I interviewed
from my last book referred to this process as the spanking machine. You know, all the political messaging votes
that the minority party will demand is the price for moving anything forward. I thought this was a particularly telling
exchange between Senator McConnell and Senator Reid, uh, from, uh, uh, 2014. McConnell said, “I can,” uh, I’m sorry, this
is, uh, uh, these are actually from 2011. Uh, this is not the nuclear option. This is they’re talking about potentially
moving to, uh, to the nuclear option. The, the Democrats are contemplating it. Um, McConnell says, “I can remember when I
was the whip and the majority saying to my members over and over again when they were
whining about casting votes, they did not want to vote, that the price of being in the
majority is that you have to take bad votes.” Reid says, “I agree with the minority leader
that the deal around this place is that the majority sets the agenda and the minority
gets to offer amendments. That’s been the rule since I got here.” Now, oftentimes, the price the minority party
tries to exact from the majority in terms of the number of amendments is unacceptable. They’ll ask for Toomey amendments, and when
their requests are granted, they still won’t necessarily allow the bill to come to a vote. This dynamic is key to understanding why the
Senate majority often won’t take appropriations bills to the floor. This kind of politics, also present in the
House as well, appropriations bills are typically handled under open rules which subject the
party controlling the House to some of the same kind of problems that, uh, that the Senate
majority party endures. In recent years, minority party Democrats
have deployed amendments about where the Confederate flag can be displayed, uh, to this kind of
purpose. On multiple occasions, the, um, the House
leadership has been, uh, forced to pull appropriations bills from the floor rather than subject their
members to vote on these or to pass the bills containing the prohibitions that are objectionable
to a large block of their members. By the same token, the budget resolution has
become really just a vehicle for messaging rather than a plan for budgeting. The, the resolution is often not grounded
in realistic assumptions and it will promise more than can be delivered. Interestingly, this focus on messaging is
a broader phenomenon that extends beyond budgets and appropriations. One of the most striking institutional changes
in Congress since the 1970s is that Congress has created so much more internal capacity
for messaging. In both, in both chambers of Congress and
among both Republicans and Democrats, members have built this elaborate infrastructure for
the creation and dissemination of partisan messages. This, uh, these figures will display, uh,
the changes over time. What you see here is, are the total number
of aides working for Senate leadership offices, those are the bars, as well as the share of
the total with job titles in communications between 1961 and 2015. The figures, uh, so the figures on two axes
here. There were no Senate leadership staffers working
in appropriations before 1977. But the rise began to take off as the Senate
majority goes into play in the lead-up to the 1980 elections where Republicans took
control. The share in communications has steadily escalated,
sort of an arms race between the parties over the period. By the end of the series, leadership staff
were, uh, uh, at close to their highest point and, uh, communicators approached half of
all Senate leadership aides. The trends in the House were more gradual,
also tied to competition for control. Before the 1990s, the share of leadership
staff in communications held around are below ten percent. But during the 1990s, the number of leadership
staff doubled, those working in communications nearly tripled. By the end of the series, those working in
communications had advanced to a third of all the leadership aides, uh, on the House
side. In short, the contemporary legislative branch
includes a workforce of professional communicators who work full-time on partisan public relations. Messaging politics can get in the way of appropriations
and budgeting, as well as compromise on lots of other policy issues where compromise is
needed in order to make legislation go forward, especially given how the Senate operates. Second, this intense computatio- intense competition
for pato- for majority control undercuts incentives to engage in long-term budget planning. In a system where elections happen every two
years, it’s hard to get elected officials to think long-term under any conditions. But the time horizon gets even shorter when
the next elections hold out the possibility of a change of party control or a major shift
in party power. For decades in the 20th century, the only
real question about congressional elections would be how big the Democratic majority would
be. That’s a very different political environment
from one in which the identity of the party that will be in power after two years is in
doubt. Our current environment of see-sawing elections
in such a closely divided electorate makes it more difficult to focus on the long-term. Finally, party competition weakens incentives
to deal with fiscal trade-offs. Budgeting and fiscal restraint on appropriations
requires difficult political and policy trade-offs, choices. Any effort to close budget deficits or stick
to appropriations caps involves dangerous and potentially unpopular policy choices. To budget responsibly, leaders must manage
these trade-offs, prioritize among competing goods, and allocate scarce resources. Meanwhile, those not in power are free to
stand aside with clean hands and criticize. They don’t have to confront trade-offs or
hard decisions about priorities, and they don’t feel the same pressure to accept imperfect
outcomes. This is a government versus opposition dynamic. It’s a pervasive part of party politics all
around the world. It’s the dominant cleavage in parliamentary
politics. Battles in, uh, parliaments take place between
the parties in government and those in opposition and not along left/right lines per se. Government governs and the opposition opposes. The US’ complex political system with checks
and balances obscures party responsibility, uh, and, uh, this dimension of party, uh,
party conflict. But even though party responsibility is more
diffuse in the US system, it’s not entirely lacking. And that one party usually has more institutional
power and responsibility for outcomes than the other. So, we still pick the ins against the outs
as in other democracies. Incentives for members of Congress to engage
in this style of partisan conflict have increased as party competition for control of the institution
has intensified. Let’s look at the political situation from
the vantage point of both parties. First, an out party is likely to perceive
advantages from refusing to engage in serious negotiations to close deficits. Refusing to come to an agreement on difficult
issues like debt and deficits offers an out party an opportunity to publicly criticize
the deficiencies of the majority’s efforts. And it may still opt to do so even if the
majority works hard to accommodate or meets the minority halfway. Um, majority that can’t get any help from
the minority party in governing is likely to struggle to maintain its unity and will
look less than competent in the process. On the other hand, if an out party does come
to a bipartisan deal on an issue, it will have to bear responsibility for unpopular
outcomes. That does not help it win back power. So, just thinking in purely political terms,
an out party looking to win back power is likely to prefer instead to make the in party
make the full, pay the full political price for making the hard choices. Meanwhile, a party in power, under these highly
competitive conditions, it also has a hard time making difficult choices, perceives its
grip on power as tenuous and endangered. Serious efforts to achieve fiscal balance
inevitably entail political risk. Achieving fiscal balance means that voters
will have to pay higher taxes or accept lower services or some combination of the two. A party in power worried about the loss of
its majorities will want to avoid being saddled with responsibility for making unpopular choices. Looking for a path forward, I think reformers
need to attend to the difficult political circumstances lawmakers face in this intensely
party competitive environment. If we expect members of Congress to make tough
decisions in an environment, uh, where so many of the political incentives push in the
other direction, they probably need some political cover to do so. That, in my view, was one of the remarkable
things about the Budget Control Act of 2011. The solution that Congress engineered, one
that was successful in imposing some spending constraint, was set up in a way that made
it seem that no party was responsible for the unpopular decisions. Congress established a set of tough, uh, across-the-board
cuts in, budget cuts that would go into effect as a kind of penalty, uh, if the super committee
failed to reach an agreement. But if the super committee, which was made
up of an even number of Republicans and Democrats, had reached an agreement, then the process
would have produced bipartisan cover. No party would be able to get advantage. So, regardless of whether the super committee
succeeded or failed, the painful consequences would, nobody’s fault. Because congressional budgets, however, are
passed on strictly partisan lines, they’re not a good vehicle for getting members to
deal with difficult party trade-offs, or policy trade-offs budget, especially fiscal restraint. The budget process is set to put the entire
responsibility for budgeting on one party, the majority party. And it gives it no minority party cover. Such a party has incentive to be risk-averse
under tay- today’s competitive conditions. It will want to do things that make its coalition
happy and it will not want to do things that will impose pain or costs, because those costs,
uh, are traceable right back to them. They, they, uh, they have no place to hide
from the, from the con- from the political fallout that, uh, occurs. A process that protects parties from blame,
especially the majority party, is probably needed in order to impose fiscal discipline
under current conditions. Okay. Thanks very much, I appreciate that. Um, I appreciate the opportunity to be here. Let me talk a little bit about the, uh, history
of the Budget Impoundment Control Act and appropriations and what I see as a, if you
will, on and off practitioner over the last forty years, uh, in this process. So, first of all, just to sort of set the
definition, who here knows what transition quarter means? I figured it. Um, the Budget Impoundment Control Act was
passed in 1974. Now, the reason it was passed is because Richard
Nixon was just about to be impeached. And he had virtually no power. And the Congress was aching to control the
executive branch. Because one of the things the executive branch
did under Richard Nixon and under other presidents, to be honest about it, is they would impound
money. The Congress would pass an appropriation saying,
“Spend this money,” and the administration would say, “Nope.” They didn’t change it, they didn’t put it
someplace else, they didn’t spend it. They just didn’t spend it. And Congress hated this and they had no law
requiring the administration to do it. So, when Nixon was weak enough during the
Watergate period, the Congress passed the Budget Impoundment and Control Act. That’s what created Congress’ institution,
the CBO, and gave Congress this, a, a budget process. Now, the budget process, when it was set up,
um, the, the fiscal year used to end on June 30. And as they went through this, they realized
that they were putting this together, it would delay the work they were gonna do in their
appropriations bills so they created what was called a transition quarter. And in calendar year 1976, we had a transition
quarter. We had a fiscal year that ended June 30. We had a transition quarter that then went
till the end of September. And then we started the new fiscal year after
that. So, fiscal year ’77, 1977, was the first time
we had a fiscal year that went from October 1 of ’16, of, excuse me, ’76 to September
30 of 1977. That resolved that little problem of transition
quarter. I was actually around to participate in watching
the transitional quarter take place, and frankly, it didn’t mean much. [laughs] We just gave in, we added some money
into the appropriations process and just threw it in there. What we had done for the year, they threw
in enough money, taken three more months and went ahead with the 1977, or fiscal year ’77. But what it was done, what was created in
the Budget Act, if you look very carefully, is really an adding machine to do more and
more spending. It is set with a current services budget to
be something that encourages spending, more spending year after year after year. It was written by a Democratic Congress that
had control of the Congress, and at that point, the unique control over the executive branch
because Richard Nixon was so weak, he had no power to do much of anything. And so, that budget was, and that budget process
is one that had a little, a little hook in it that most people didn’t see. It was called reconciliation. And nobody really thought it was all that
big a deal. So, they set up this process. And the process was really to sort of give
the Congress the ability to compete with the administration, with the OMB, by having a
CBO and let Congress say, “This is our budget.” The president had always set up a budget. That’s what Congress worked off of and they
passed the appropriations bill, decided what they would do. This set out a nice orderly process. That time, you had thirteen appropriation
subcommittees, thirteen appropriations bills. And the budget process said, “Okay, this is
how much we could spend and this is how much each appropriations committee, subcommittee
gets.” Not unlike what we do today, or try to do
today. And then, all those go together and we put
them into a budget and we pass it and then we go on our merry way. And that sort of happened, but nobody used
reconciliation until 1981 when a new director of the OMB, a former congressman from Michigan,
his name was Dave Stockman, figured this little thing out. He looked at it and he said, “Wait a minute,
we can try and cut spending here.” And at that point, they were cutting maybe
tens of millions of dollars and that was looked at as a big deal. You want to challenge Congress and tell them
to just not spend this money and that’s the way you did it, was through this reconciliation
process. Well, nobody had thought about that. And that’s the reason you really didn’t have
any restrictions man- much in the way of restrictions on the Senate side. The Byrd Rules, and I’m sure a number of you
are familiar with, someone like, some don’t like, I’m sure, were put into effect in 1986. And they were put into effect in 1986 because,
as you did more and more reconciliation bills, the House with a Rules Committee could figure
out how to get around and work and do what they needed to do. The Senate, on the other hand, was very beholden
to the House, and there were a number of things. With the, the freedom of debate in the Senate,
you could move to do different things. And so, Senator Byrd, looking at this, really
decided that what he didn’t want done, first of all, is that the appropriations would not
be changed by, by reconciliation. And he had some other things he wanted to
do as well which protected some of the Senate rights. And frankly, there are some of those things
which need to be done. But also, as Senator Byrd was usually very
good at doing, because he was a very smart man who knew the rules of the Senate better
than most everybody else, is he stuck a couple things in there to make sure he could control
the process on the Senate side. And that’s the Byrd Rules, the Byrd Bath,
all the Byrd things House people worry about when they send a reconciliation bill over
to the Senate. The disadvantages, if you will, that they
see in that come from a time when Senator Byrd, who was smart enough to understand what
this was doing to the Senate and the Senate’s prerogatives, figured out a way to limit how
much “damage” he thought it could do in the Senate. And so, you have that set of rules which are
not only rules of the Senate, they are law. They were put into law and are signed into
law. So, it’s not just as if you’re changing budget
rules when you deal with the Byrd Rules, these are laws that the United States of America
signed into law. That brought some balance to this. But what you see progressively over time from
1976 on is a greater and greater use of reconciliation. The next big movement on reconciliation came
in 2001, when the House decided they would put tax cuts into a reconciliation bill. And it was a question that was considered
by the parliamentarian of the Senate. And, um, there was great discussion which
was held at that time, private discussions I will say, uh, at which the House members
came and talked to the Senators about what they, um, whether it was possible or not to
do taxes in a reconciliation bill. And, uh, one of the parliamentarians of the
Senate argued that it was not and didn’t want to do this. And, um, he left his job and they found a
Senate parliamentarian who would say, “Yeah, it’s possible to do this.” Um, and what we have now is a situation where
you can do three separate types of reconciliation bills of this. You can do a tax reconciliation bill, you
can do a spending reconciliation bill, and you can do a debt limit reconciliation bill. Now, if you combine any spending in the tax
reconciliation bill, the Senate parliamentarian has said you lose the right to do three because
you’ve done some spending stuff. Now, in taxes, there’s always spending, because
you have things like the EITC and other tax issues which are tax expenditures. You are actually spending money and they show
and count on CBO’s scorecard as spending money. So, if you are sh- cutting the spending, as
well as doing things on taxes, you lose your right to do two separate appro- uh, reconciliation
bills and you get, instead of three possibilities, I’m sure you get two. And the Senate doesn’t like doing debt limit
on reconciliation bill ever. It can be done but you’ve got, but what I’m,
you’re looking at here is the evolution of a very powerful weapon in Congress. The budget process which had in it something
that the creators of the budget process never really imagined would be worked in the way
it was. And that’s this reconciliation process and
it gathered strength and power over the years. But what you also see happening here is that
this division that Frances talked about between a budget which is sort of general, “Here’s
our policies, here’s what we wanna do, and let’s go get ’em,” and it’s a team exercise. The red jerseys and the blue jerseys, who’s
ever in the majority, they gotta produce the votes for a budget ’cause the blue jerseys
ain’t gonna vote for the red jerseys and the red jerseys ain’t gonna vote for the blue
jerseys. And we put on our team jerseys and we play
the game. But that budget sets some restrictions on
the appropriators and what they can do. And it also, through the reconciliation process,
sets you up to do things like taxes. Now, in that process, what you’ve done is
then take this general form of each, uh, of side, whether it’s Democrats in the majority,
Republicans in the majority, as this is, this is what we believe we would like to do. This is our fondest ambition for how we’d
like the government to work. And then, you have to bring this reality into
it, in reconciliation. The reality of tax changes or spending changes
or the debt limit. And on top of that, you had the reality of
the appropriations process, which is really down on the, I mean, that, that’s real walking
in the dirt reality. Now, my allowance when I was a kid was, I
was told I would get fifty cents if I did these things. If I didn’t do the things, I didn’t get the
fifty cents. So, by authorization, was that I would get
fifty cents a week. I didn’t do the right stuff, I didn’t get
fifty cents a week. My appropriation was whatever I’m, if they’ve
decided I got, I’d done a quarter’s worth of work, I did a quarter’s worth. The appropriations process is a real money,
as you all know. But that process is very real and it gets
down to the very nitty-gritty. And I think part of what has happened here
is, as the process of the Budget Impoundment Control Act, which was imagined to be one
thing, a process so we can spend more and more and more money each year that left, had
within it the seeds of its own destruction in many ways. And nobody, I’m not sure anybody could have
imagined this when they created it back in 1973 and ’74. But what you found is that this process has
brought us to a point where the really hard gut work that where the appropriation, where
the, the budget has an impact, that is setting the totals of the appropriations. Then, you try and implement those totals of
appropriations and it becomes very, very hard to do. And the appropriations process is where Congress
has given up more and more and more of its power. We no longer have three equal branches of
government. We’ve got an executive branch which, over
the years, you can look at Republican and Democrat presidents, has tried to pull more
and more power control to itself. It’s not only the White House, it’s the bureaucracy
that surrounds them. You’ve got a judicial branch in which, I’m
sure there are many members of the Federal Society would argue, has a number of rogue
judges in it who are making law where they have no right to make law. That’s not their job, that’s not what the
Constitution says they can do, but they do. And you have a Congress, which by virtue of
not doing appropriations bills or writing skeletal legislation that we then send downtown
and have a whole bunch of people down there hired many more people than work up here,
to write all the details of those laws. And we’ve been doing this, frankly, for more
and more and more for a hundred, hundred years. I would argue it starts with Woodrow Wilson. Frances may correct me in that, but I would
say, I would argue this starts with Woodrow Wilson, this ceding of power to the executive
branch. And during the period of FDR, it grew greatly. And during the period of the Great Society
and Lyndon Johnson, it grew even more. But Congress has participated in giving up
its own power. You look at Article I, the most important
power of Congress, the reason Congress can be equal to the other two branches is because
they have the power of the purse. If I do a continuing resolution, if I do an
omnibus resolution that really copies a lot from last year, maybe makes a few changes
on the side, year after year after year, what have I lost? I’ve lost the power of the purse to go in
and specifically say to this agency or that department or the administration in this way
or that way, “This is what we want you to do.” And I’m old enough to remember when we used
to have real fights about those things. I’m old enough to remember when one of the
appropriations subcommittees didn’t like a person who has been nominated by Ronald Reagan
for a job in the Ag Department and they defunded it. They defunded the job ’cause they didn’t like
the guy. Imagine that happening today. I don’t think you can and see it go through
the process. It went through the process. They defunded the job. Once the administration backed down and didn’t
put the guy in the job, they refunded it and they got the guy in the job. A new person in the job. That’s the type of power the power of the
purse is. And we have none of that now, and it’s because
Congress has given it away. Congress has also given away their ability
to control what is known right now in the, in, in Trump talk as the swamp. One of the things that happened in the election
is a lot of people were surprised on late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning
that Donald Trump is, was gonna be elected president of the United States. And I was working for Paul Ryan at the time
and the speaker at a press conference Wednesday morning, and he said, “I’m like a lot of people. I did not understand and hear what was going
on in this country.” And Donald Trump spoke to people of this country
in a way that a lot of us didn’t understand. And I’ve been trying to figure it out and
I, I suspect some of you have been trying to figure it out. And I think there’s probably a whole bunch
of people who, who, like Frances does, who’ve been trying to figure it out. But I think part of it is that people, this
idea of, of draining the swamp and, you know, what exactly does it mean? Here’s what I think it means, and we can all
decide what we think it means because it doesn’t cost you anything to hear what I, what I think
it means and doesn’t cost me anything to hear what you think it means. But I think people are looking at this, and
a lot of them just feel the government is too big for them. They don’t understand it, whether it’s the
IRS you think is too big, whether you think the EPA doesn’t go far enough in its regulations
or goes too far in its regulations, whether you think you’re running into this, that or
the other problem because at your work, you see it happening, in your family, you see
it happening. Whatever it may be, the bureaucracy has gotten
to be something that people really fear and feel ha- has, nobody, nobody controls it. It is in and of itself a, uh, a, a, I don’t
know, a snake, uh, a, a, a, a power, a force. Let me use that instead of pejoratives. A power and a force that nobody can really
control. And in fact, if you look at appropriations
subcommittee hearings, and the appropriations cardinals will tell you this. The people who come up from, from the departments
and from the agencies, and the administration no longer are worried that they’re gonna have
this appropriations committee. So, we’re gonna sort of rearrange their budget
or cut it or, or, or if they can make a good enough argument, increase it because, frankly,
they don’t see appropriations bills ever getting done. And so, that tension that it was, is supposed
to be there that was created by the founders between the executive branch and the legislative
branch of government mostly controlled by the power of the purse has been given up,
and Congress is gonna have to figure it out. I think the budget process, and the appropriations
process, and sort of the reality and the hard, dirty work of the appropriations or writing
tax bills or the other things that come out of the bu- budget have made it more difficult
to do the job we need to do in appropriations. And in some ways, this budget process is gonna
have to be reconciled, I think over time, with sort of the, what it has created in and
of itself and how do we get back to doing that. We can all have suggestions. I have some suggestions, you have some suggestions. Let me just say one and then I’ll stop, and
we’ll take questions. I think a lot of this process is harmed and
doesn’t work because we don’t vote. One of the things about democracy is if you
don’t practice it, it doesn’t work very well. And whether that democracy is a subcommittee
hearing and a subcommittee markup, and a full committee hearing and a full committee markup,
and being on the floor of the House and the Senate, both side, both bodies, both parties. You, you just simply have to vote. And, yes, it is true that with these things
in our pockets and other advances in communications, we have never known so much that’s wrong in
this world. It’s just flat-out wrong information. Because I can get more wrong information off
of this thing in ten minutes than I could have gotten in a lifetime before these things
were created. Some of it’s right, some of it’s not. But, yes, you can communicate that way and,
yes, you can start things happening and make people talk about things. But the real answer is, how do we solve problems? And you solve problems by voting, because
there is a tension, there’s, in, in, in a democratic process between the people and
the ideas and the parties. And, and if, if, if you never do this, it
never gets to the point where it rubs off and you’re able to do things and find compromises. If you just don’t let this happen and they’re
doing this, everybody’s right. As long as I don’t get a vote, I know I win,
I, I know I’m gonna win this vote. Until I take it and I get twenty votes, everybody’s
always gonna win. They wouldn’t, you know, everybody, I’ve,
whatever I’m doing has to be smart. No, and it may not be. But as long as you’re doing this and never
get these two together to rub that off and start getting to the point where you can find
a way for it to work and not so much friction be there, and that’s voting. That’s voting in the House and its voting
committees and it’s voting in the Senate. And I know it can be very unhappy and all
these phones and things and radio talk shows and TV news, um, programs that run 24/7 and
have to have something to say every minute of the 24/7, make it more difficult in some
ways. But the real, the answer is still democracy
and it is still voting. And I’m naive enough to believe if we get
back to doing that. The nature of this institution when I first
joined it was that it was, um, I’ll guarantee you in 1976 and ’77, Republican and Democrat
members of the House of Representatives knew their colleagues, both within their conferences
and in the other conference, much better than they do today. Much better on a personal basis. Part of that was that they lived here in town. Part of it was that they were thrown together
and worked four or five days a week. Part of it is just the human side of that
institution and they voted, they voted on things. Now, we have Republicans complain when they
were in the minority in that period of time which they were, part of that long minority
that they didn’t get to do what they wanted to do and duh-duh-duh. Fine, but they were actually voting. They were actually working in committee. They were doing things. The process worked. I think the process works pretty well ’cause
I think a process was set up, frankly, uh, a providential way by people who are far smarter
than us. And I’ll rely on Madison and Jay and Hamilton
for what they setup and how they told us to work this until I hear somebody I think smarter
than them. So far, I haven’t heard it. Let me stop there and we’ll take questions. Okay. Great. Thank you both very much. Uh, Professor Lee, I’m, uh, offering you an
opportunity if you’d like to, uh, respond to any comments that, uh, David made. I would-
If you have any. I, I’d like to ask, um, Dave a question-
Sure. -about what he thinks the prospects for Congress
reasserting its powers are in the current environment. Before the 2016 elections, when I expected
that there would be a continuation of divided government, I was pretty optimistic that,
um, that Congress would, uh, be able to, uh, you know, make more use of the power of the
purse and to make more use of its constitutional powers. But unified government often cuts against
Congress asserting itself as Congress looks to the White House, um, to take the lead. And so, I, I was wondering what you, what
you think the, the prospects are for an Article I Initiative or the, uh, Congress reasserting
itself, reasserting itself more generally in the system. Um, I think internally, Congress has to solve
its own problems before it can reassert them vis-a-vis the White House. And, um, I think both parties within the Congress
have very, um, uh, are fact- factionalized. Is that a word? Um, and they have to figure out how to move
forward. And I was, once again, I, having been here
a long time, I got to see a lot of what the Reagan administration did. And frankly, Ronald Reagan compromised virtually
every day of his presidency. Now, he used to be famous for saying, “I’ll
take seventy percent of the loaf now and come back and get the thirty percent later,” because
his view was it was his job to improve the country, and he thought that a lot of things
in the country were wrong. And he’s had policies and worked with Congress
to establish policies. Whether you like them, didn’t like them, that’s,
that’s not really the issue here. The issue here is, how do you move forward? And Ronald Reagan’s view was I have to move
forward by having the government do things differently and in a way that will provide,
in his case, for growth, for a stronger defense, whatever. Those, those were the issues. But he was willing to compromise. I’d love to give you a good example of that. He ran in 1980. One of the issues that was very important
to Ronald Reagan was what’s called a Kemp-Roth tax cuts. Now, Kemp-Roth tax cuts were a thirty percent
across-the-board tax rate reduction immediately. Ronald Reagan hadn’t been in office thirty
days before they had already started to work and had compromised on that. And in the end, that bill was passed in July
and then finally passed, the conference report passed in either late July or August, I’d
have to look at the date, um, which cut taxes in Kemp-Roth style twenty-five percent across
the board over two-and-a-half years. Now, imagine if you’d campaigned in this Congress
right today on thirty percent across-the-board now and what you got was twenty-five percent
over two and a half years. I think the place would go up in flames. But Ronald Reagan believed it would work. He got it, he found ways of, of s- and he
needed, and in that House of Representatives, we had a hundred and ninety-two Republicans. And if you wanted to pass anything, every
day of the week, we had to get twenty-six Democrats or we didn’t pass anything. Now, for the two years, the first two years
of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, every major issue that came out of the Budget Committee
and the Ways and Means Committee, tax bills budgets. And, and, and what were, you know, the, the,
the reconciliation bill we did at that time. What the committee reported out was defeated
on the floor and substituted for by a coalition product that was mostly Republicans and be
it someplace between twenty-six and forty or forty-five Democrats. And every, every time, and then so the, the
Ways and Means Committee didn’t pass one bill it had reported and the Budget Committee didn’t
pass one bill it report, uh, it had reported in those two years. And because Ronald Reagan could figure out
a way to work and compromise, and he didn’t get everything he wanted, but he got enough
he thought to change the direction of the country. You can judge for yourself, like it, I’m not
talking about liking or disliking, I’m simply talking about how the process worked. And that’s a process which we don’t see much
anymore. And you don’t see it in the Democratic side
and you don’t see it in the Republican side. But we’ve got to get back to that. So, I think to solve that problem, I guess
by, by dodging answer a little bit, but the, the parties in Congress, I mean, if, if the
Democrats take over everything in, in 2020, I’m not sure they aren’t gonna have some of
the same problems we see the Republicans are having right now. In fact, I would predict we are, we’re gonna
see some of those same problems. Um, but that’s, um, Congress has to get its
own House in order I think before they can, uh, uh, answer that question. So, so, is that a message for the voters that
we need to send different sorts of leaders to Congress who adhere to maybe the prior
ways in which, uh, legislating was done? Once again, I, I leave it to the, to the voters
to make those decisions. But internally here, you have to, you solve
problems by finding, by, by moving forward and, and contesting ideas. Ideas don’t get contested without votes. You don’t have to sharpen your ideas or figure
out a way to say, “Okay, I can’t, I’ve got nineteen of the, you know, in, in the committee,
I need nineteen votes to pass this. And I got seventeen. If I make this little change, do I get to
nineteen or twenty? And do I actually get something done?” If you don’t have votes, you don’t ever get
to that point of the process. We’ve got to go back to this. And it’s, and it’s, in some ways it’s getting
me shockingly radical to say, “Gee, we ought to vote more,” but we ought to vote more. Questions from the audience? Right here, sir. Please go ahead. My, my, my question leads to, to the both
of you, really. Um, there was something, I believe, that’s
referred to as the Gingrich reforms. When he became sec- he became the Speaker
the House, there was a number of things that changed. No earmarks, for instance, were eliminated. Mm-hmm. No one can be chairman of more than one subcommittee
at a time. Mm-hmm. And I believe there’s a six-year limit as
to how long someone could be chair of a committee. Um, these things were looked at as, as real
reforms, particularly the earmark, but the earmarks gave the speaker, it gave the committee
chair power over members because you wouldn’t get the road in your, in your district-
Mm-hmm. -if you didn’t go along with it, uh, knew
what was going on. But, uh, if we get away with these things,
do you think that this has, this kind of reforms that came about when, when, when Gingrich
became, uh, speaker had a real impact on the inability of Congress to get anything done
today? It’s an, it’s an interesting, that’s an interesting
way of framing, um, that question of impact of the Ging- the Gingrich reforms. That in general, the understanding is that
it helped to centralize ref- centralize power in Congress. That by, uh, term-limiting committee chairs,
committee chairs were no longer able to, uh, you know, to build up baronies, you know,
influence over agencies because they’re gonna be there for-
Let’s hear for John Dingell. Yeah, right. [laughter]
Um, and, um, then the leadership had a bigger role in choosing who would be committee chairs. And, uh, seniority was not respected in terms
of, uh, the choice of committee chairs, so they should be hand-picked to work with the
leadership. It ought to have made the parties, uh, be
able to work more cohesively together. That was the intent. And, uh, I mean I, uh, you know, institutionally,
I, you know, I, I would argue that it probably did have that effect. The question now is whether leadership is
able to get enough buy-in from members. In the centralization of power, the downside
of that is if members don’t, don’t trust the leadership, then a centralized process is
one that they feel left out of. And, uh, that mistrust is corrosive to party
unity. And so, one benefit of the old more decentralized
way is that it got, it produced more buy-in on the part of members. But at the cost of, I mean, uh, I, you know,
Gingrich could look at the struggles that the Democrats, uh, you know, for their long
years in the majority had at trying to act in any kind of coherent way when committee
chairs were there because of their seniority and could not be replaced and felt free to
do whatever they wanted regardless of what the general, uh, you know, rank-and-file members
of the Democratic Party wanted to do or what the leadership wanted to do. So, they addressed that old problem. Maybe we have new problems now. Um, I, I agree with that. Um, it’s intriguing, uh, that, uh, Speaker
Gingrich is a transitional, um, character. Uh, because, um, I remember after the ’94
elections, um, I was working in the Senate side at that time for Senator Lott, and several
press people came up to him and said, “Are you sorry he left the House?” And he said, “Why?” They said, “Well, you would have been speaker.” Then he said, “No.” He said, “I would never have done what Newt
did that made him speaker.” Um, and that’s, gotta unpack this a little. Some of the things you’re talking about we’re
done as actually Republican conference rules. Some of them were done as rules, uh, of the
House and, and other ways. But they, um, I’m not, I’m not sure those
things are necessary to get, get back. I’m not sure you have to have earmarks again
to get back. I think there are problems which are, are
deeper than that, if you will. Uh, and in fact, earmarks, I can argue ’em
round and I can argue ’em square. And the reason I say that is because it never
made much sense to me why somebody downtown in the bureaucracy could tell a congressman
more where money should be spent in his district or tell the state where money should be spent
better than the state could figure it out. And in some ways, that’s what earmarks were. This is where I need the bridge. No, that’s, a congressman is gonna have a
much better idea, that then, I don’t care who you are in the transportation department. They just, they have a better idea then and
that’s fair. Having said that, they were also used to buy
votes. And I mean, and the Republicans suffered from
this greatly and I think a big part of the internal problem among Republicans. And, and in 2006, one of the reasons they
lost control of the House is because people saw this, even if they didn’t understand exactly
what’s going on. Um, they were, it, it got way, it was way,
way out of hand. I mean, they were just, that, that, that’s
not the purpose. If, if earmarks have a purpose, it is to have
more intimate knowledge of where the money should go by the people who know it best because
they’re in their districts. Not because you need to buy somebody’s vote. You get to that point and, and so, as I said,
I can argue ’em round, argue ’em square but, but once again, it come, to me, it comes back
to, are you, as an, as a party, as a group gonna believe that you have to make changes
and sometimes they’re going to be incremental not wholesale? And that’s what neither party has reconciled
itself to yet. I mean, you, you watch the introduction of,
of, uh, Senator Sanders’, um, single-payer bill. Um, there’s, everybody who wants to run for
president got on it real fast. And then, it sort of dropped off. I suspect that drop off isn’t in quite a different
place from, from those people. Um, as long as all that’s talked, being talked
about is it’s not, you know, it’s gonna get a vote and lose which it would, right, at
the, at this point, doesn’t mean very much. If it all of the sudden becomes something
that has to be done in January of 2021, that’s gonna be, there’s gonna be, there, some of
these internal things you tend to see when you have responsibility for governing if,
if you’re in the majority of the House, majority of the Senate, in the White House. They, they all have to come to the floor. So, um, but, but once again, realistically,
Congress as an institution has to regain its power. And they have to pull that power back on the
power of the purse. They have to make the appropriations system
work and they have to be able to pass appropriations bills not as a big lump but one by one by
one. And they have to start pulling back on the
bureaucracy. I mean, we have ceded so much power to the
bureaucracy and then we complain about the regs they write. As far as I’m concerned, we have no reason
to complain. We’re the ones who didn’t put it enough detail
in the legislation so that they couldn’t screw it up or get ’em wrong or we can’t blame ’em
for it. There’s way, different ways you can do that. There’s people who’ve proposed different ideas
for going about that. But Congress has to pull that power back and
they have to pull back the power of the purse. And once they do that, you’re gonna feel like
you’re really doing a job around here. If you’re in committee, a subcommittee every
day, in committee every day and you’re voting and you’re moving things and things are happening,
you’re gonna feel like this job makes a difference. And I think there’s a feeling that right now
we don’t make enough of a difference. And I think, I, I would argue those things
are, have to be done before you, you would do the others. But have, have those had an impact? I think they have but I don’t, I think there’s
other things that have had a greater impact. Very good. Um, I think there was a question back here,
so- I had the same question. Same question. Other questions? Please. There was no discussion about how the congressional
calendar, the role of congressional calendar plays in passing appropriations bills and
budget processes. And essentially, there’s five months where
Congress is taking no action on the budget at all. October, November, December, January, and
August. Mm-hmm. If some changes were made to the congressional
calendar, do you think that that might help get a budget done on time? Just throwing out in there. I don’t know the answer. I don’t have an idea. I’m just throwing it out for discussion. Um, I’m not supposed to say this. Um, I would argue, I’m trying to think how
to say this so I don’t sound like, um, petty. Some would argue. [laughter]
Some would argue, um, we need longer weeks. Um, anecdotally, I will tell you that in 1999
and year 2000, when we had a Republican Senate and a Republican House and a Democratic president,
the schedules were such that we could not figure out when or how to hold a conference
meeting. We couldn’t do it. Between the House and when they came in in
the Senate, when they came in, and if the House wasn’t gonna be here, the Senate wouldn’t
be here. And if the Senate wasn’t gonna be, the House,
we literally could not hold a conference meeting. And that forty-five minutes on Wednesday afternoon
that you had, where both, everybody was here. It, it, you’ll, I’m, I’m not kiddin’ you. Figuring out how to hold a conference committee
was virtually impossible at the time. That, that can’t, this, these institutions
can’t work that way. And so, I would argue, you know, people are
saying, “Cancel the August recess.” Fine. Okay. Sort of agnostic on it, go ahead, cancel if
you want. Work five days a week. Take a week off every month, I don’t care,
but work five days a week. And you’ll get more done because, actually,
the interaction that five days a week gives you, I think, maybe I’m just wrong on that,
but I’ve, um, I, I have been remarkably unsuccessful arguing that to senators and House members
both. On that, on that point, I’d say that, you
know, that the, the, the shortening congressional weeks, it is hard to reverse that because
the constituents come to expect their members to be there. And then, once this pattern is set and, you
know, jet travel enables you to do it. I mean, the reason why members of Congress
used to stay here for longer stretch is because it wasn’t even feasible except for those on
the Northeast Corridor to go home every weekend. Um, and so, you know, as members have shown
that they can do it even when they wet- even West Coast, that they can go home every weekend
and constituents come to expect it. And then, second, that everything about the
Congress is affected by this intensely competitive environment for majority control. And, you know, not, a, a, a handful of seats
swing and member, and ma- majority control switches. And so, it’s very important for parties to
protect their vulnerable members, which means give them time to mend fences back at home. And so, that puts a lot of constraints on
the congressional calendar. Well, Professor Lee, I, I think you said at
the beginning that there really was no defense of omnibus spending bills on the merits. But given, uh, as he mentioned, the, the constraints
on the calendar, um, I mean, isn’t that really the, really the reason for them and where
we’re at now? And, and are there ways that we can make it
better or, or, um, really move back to a regular, more regular process? It, um, I mean, I see omnibus legislating
as a pragmatic adjustment to today’s realities. Uh, in fact, I, I don’t really think we could
just go right back to regular order. Like, I don’t think we can just, well, you
know, create a calendar and then expect members to live up to it. That it, uh, I, you know, I think, um, Dave
is right that it has to come from within the Congress and the Congress has to, um, it,
it has to cohere. They have to decide what their priorities
are. But they, uh, they can’t do that in the absence
of the American people also deciding what party is gonna be in the majority. You know, this constant competition politicizes
congressional processes more than they were in an environment where members were not as
constantly preoccupied by the next set of elections. But that’s, that, that, that traces back to
the electoral circumstances of the country. And until, un- un- until the American people
seem to have made a decision, then Congress has to muddle through-
[laughter] -uh, and, you know, try to resolve conflicts
sufficiently to keep government in operation and, uh, and to make incremental progress
when possible. But, uh, but, you know, hard to settle anything
in an environment like this. And Dave, are there legislative solutions
that you could put forward that would roll back some of the unintended consequences of
the Budget Act from ’74 that you talked about earlier? Um, a friend of mine has suggested that what
you do is change one, make one change in the Budget Act. And that is you say that as of, pick a date,
uh, June 30 would be a, a nice date, maybe do a little earlier than that. Um, if the Congress has not passed a budget
that the president’s budget becomes the budget. [laughs]
That’s it. [laughter]
I mean, just automatic, nothing you can do about it, can’t stop it, it’s there. So, that’s what you’ve got and that’s what
you got to work with. You know, like the guillotine focuses the
mind and might do it. Might force some full work weeks, too, right? [laughter]
Maybe more than one. Yeah. [laughs] Other questions from the audience? Yes, sir, please. Just to follow-up on what, on what David Hoppe
just said. Sure. Uh, Gerald Ford, he didn’t put this [inaudible],
but after he’s president [inaudible] constitutional amendment that said Congress couldn’t do anything
in the beginning of a session until it passed appropriations bills. It couldn’t do anything else. And so, it would hold them, you know-
Yeah. Though I like your idea but, you know-
Mm-hmm. -the president’s budget becomes the budget. Mm-hmm. You know, becomes appropriations if they don’t
act within a certain number of days or something. But, but Gerald Ford who, of course, had the
experience of being up there in the House for so long, he had the idea that, you know-
Yeah. -they couldn’t do any, only if the president
declared an emergency and then would take two-thirds both of each, of each house. But otherwise, they couldn’t do anything else. There, I mean, there have been arguments-
[crosstalk 01:09:23] -Yeah. There are ar- arguments in recent, recent
years that, that that’s what, the bud- the, that the agenda for Congress ought to be,
let’s do the budget appropriations bills and we can do nothing else until we get those
done and we start in January whenever we come back in, uh, every year to do this and do
it that way. Um, that has some advantage. I also think, I mean, there’s, there’s ways
one can imagine making the budget reflect more of the reality that it runs into, uh,
as opposed to being, um, a, a document of high-minded thoughts purposes and our goals
in life and what will make us happy next Tuesday. Having it more clearly reflect exactly what
you wanna do in taxes and exactly what you want to do in spending by having debates and,
and voting those two things. Most of us, as we look at our, our lives,
our personal lives. Um, I can sit down and say, “Gee, I’m gonna
spend $750,000 this year.” There’s just one problem with that. I don’t make $750,000. I mean, I’ve $75,000. But I mean, we, we start not with what we
want to spend for the year, we start in our own personal lives with what we make. I mean, and when we sit down, my wife and
I sit down and say, “What’s our budget?” We say, “Well, what do we make?” We don’t say, “Golly, I’d really like to do
this. Let’s go buy an airplane.” Okay. I can’t fly one, first of all. But secondly, I haven’t got the money. And you start with where, where the money
comes from. Well, and this is not to say you aren’t ever
gonna deficit spend, but why don’t you start with saying, “Okay, how much do we want to
take from the fat private sector every year in taxes?” Obviously, that’s my version of, of how I
view taxes. But apart from that, if you start by saying,
“Well, what are we gonna take from the American people this year? How much are we gonna make?” And your tax policies can tell you not exactly
but broadly where that is. And then, you maybe have a fight about the,
about how much you’re gonna bring in. And once you’ve had that fight and you’ve
decided where it, what it is, then you decide how you’re gonna spend it, or if you’re gonna
spend more than that. And if you’re going to spend more than that,
then you got some decisions to make, and one of them is a debt limit increase on top of
all the decision- other decisions you make. But instead of sort of we, once again, and
I think it goes back some ways to sort of this cash register idea of the Budget mountain-
Impoundment and Reform Act, which was, we’ll figure out what we’re just gonna spend. This is gonna help us spend more and more
money each year. Okay. Does that have anything to do, you know, with,
can, we, there are then arguments between deficit spending and how you control that,
et cetera, et cetera, et cetera which you have. But you ought to have ’em in a rational way
and the budget didn’t really set us up to do that. I think the budget set us up to do a lot of
things that Frances was saying, which is, this is happy time. Yeah. All the balloons are full with, and they’ve
just had that, the helium put in ’em and they’re all way up there high. But down here, we’re, you know, six months
from now where the balloons going phbbt and they’re trying to do an appropriations bill
or a tax bill. It’s a very different world. Uh, I’ll give you both an opportunity for,
uh, any concluding remarks. But one last, uh, call for questions if there’s
questions from the audience. Okay. Professor Lee, would you like to-
I don’t have a concluding statement. One, one question that I have, it’s been a
long time since I’ve heard anybody working on Capitol Hill have anything good to say
about the budget process. And I sort of wonder whether there’s any impetus
building for reform of that. I haven’t heard any proposals that seem to
garner substantial support, but I am struck by the fact that no one defends the budget
process now. So, food for thought. Yeah. Well, there’s congressmen who have retired
because they didn’t think we’re ever gonna get serious about reforming the budget process. I, I mean, I literally know of cases of congressmen
who have retired because that was what they thought was really important and it was clear
to them, it became clear to them that was never gonna happen. I, I think we have to, we have to reconcile
sort of the, the pieces of this. The, but I, I will end with sort of a, a question
which I don’t know the answer to, because as you look at the charts you put up, we see
periods that are like this period. Now, this is, as you pointed out, the longest
of these we’ve had. Sort of when does that change? Because I’m convinced at some point it will,
because it has all the other times. Uh, one party or the other has sort of figured
out a way that the people sort of, sort of said, “Okay, that’s what I like. That’s what I wanna do.” And it’s the peop- by that, the people, I
mean, probably the ones we call independence today. Because if, if one of the par- parties or
the other party sort of figures out what appeals to independence, I think we’re gonna establish
a, an ability to do things with enough authority to do ’em over time. And whether, I don’t know whether it’s a Republican
or a Democrat one, I can’t tell you that. I, I don’t know but I think, and then sort
of we’re in the middle of this and it’s hard to analyze when you’re in the middle of, uh,
of one of these interregnums- Mm-hmm.
-or periods which, you know, when you’re gonna come out of it. But, uh, uh, somebody’s gonna figure that
out I think, I just don’t know when, which side, and who. Well, the other factor is that the Federalist
Society’s Article I Initiative, uh, comes at the very end of those charts. So, you know, uh, we’ll see how it goes going
forward. [laughter]
I’ll really love it. It could be the solution. So, uh, thank you all very much for coming
today. We wanna thank our, uh, wonderful, uh, wonderful
speakers. They were, uh, as advertised, great and, uh,
really think they deserve a round of applause, so. If, um, if you like, uh, more information
about, uh, the Article I Initiative, please go to our website, fedsoc.org/articlei. Thank you all for coming.

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