Right now, the annual federal budgeting process faces threats on two fronts, both of which could sabotage Congress’ ability to reach spending deals that keep our government open and functioning.
Appropriations subcommittees in the House of Representatives have begun marking up spending bills for fiscal year 2019 and moving them out of committee. One perennial threat to the budget process is that appropriators may try to add dozens of partisan poison pill riders — special favors for big corporations and ideological extremists that have nothing to do with funding our government — into these spending bills.
In recent years, poison pill riders added early in the process have targeted protections for women’s health, our environment, our nation’s campaign finance system, Wall Street protections and more. Lawmakers must remain vigilant and oppose the inclusion of these harmful measures.
It’s bad enough that Congress has to contend with poison pill riders that could sabotage the next spending agreement, but Congress also is facing a threat from the White House that would unravel previous ones.
White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney recently proposed a set of rescissions on behalf of President Trump. These rollbacks of already allocated funding for key programs and policies would take back up to $15 billion from previously approved spending arrangements, almost half of which comes out of rainy day funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The irony that this announcement happened at the same time as first lady Melania Trump’s speech establishing her main cause as helping children is lost on no one.
The two-year budget deal, reached in March after more than a year of negotiations, was premised in part upon not needing to replenish CHIP funding. What this means is that Trump’s proposed rescissions clawing back CHIP funding hack away at the foundations of that deal — even if, so far, they haven’t directly touched the deal’s spending levels.
By rehashing old funding fights, Trump risks delaying the 2019 budget and undermining Congress’ ability to reach bipartisan budget agreements. It also shows Trump’s true colors as a deal breaker, not a deal maker.
Bipartisan deal making requires that both parties keep their word. Congress won’t be able to pass future budget deals that keep our government open and our country running if one side can just backtrack on their agreements.
As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in April when asked about the White House’s use of rescissions to backtrack on promised funding, “You can’t make an agreement one month and then say OK, we really didn’t mean it.”
Both ideological riders and budget rescissions are extreme, controversial, partisan and poisonous to budget negotiations. Another similarity is that they represent a breach of regular order in the budget process.
Republican politicians keep promising regular order, but their continued insistence on inappropriate partisan riders — and now Trump’s focus on rescissions — shows they are still having trouble getting their house in order.
Lest anyone thinks it’s too soon to start worrying about next year’s government funding package, recall that it took at least 15 months, five stopgap funding bills and two government shutdowns to get to an agreement on the two-year budget deal and omnibus appropriations funding package passed in March.
We’ll need a new appropriations package at the end of September. That means Congress has less than five months to come to an agreement, so there isn’t a moment to waste.
Trump and Republican appropriators should stop playing political games and instead focus on reaching a bipartisan spending deal free from poison pill riders — so the country avoids another pointless and costly government shutdown this fall.