Sep 08 2015
Almost everyone who runs for Congress does so for the same reason: to reform the federal budget. The budget contains within it almost every political issue under the sun. And obviously everyone has his or her own idea about what “reform” means.
I certainly did when I first ran for the Senate in 2010. I wanted to repeal Obamacare and save taxpayers trillions of dollars in new taxes and spending. I wanted a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. I wanted to reform our entitlement programs that, without reforms, will in coming decades bankrupt our entire country. In short, I wanted to fix the way Washington spends taxpayers’ money — both how much we spend and what we spend it on.
But you might be surprised to learn that in five years in the Senate, I have never really been given the chance. Oh, federal law still requires a congressional budget process. It’s just that Washington doesn’t follow it.
There are still appropriations committees whose job it is to propose individual spending bills to the full House of Representatives and Senate. But we don’t pass them.
Of the 60 such appropriations bills due from Congress in my five years in the Senate (12 per year), only one has been passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president. The rest were all ignored, aborted or blocked.
In truth, Congress no longer approves the annual federal budget line-by-line — keeping this, cutting that, fixing the other. Rather, we budget by what is called a “continuing resolution,” or “CR.”
What is a CR? It’s an all-or-nothing federal budget bill. It’s a short little bill that basically says, “Keep the entire federal budget exactly the same.”
Under a CR, representatives and senators are unable to vote for some things and against others.
It’s kind of like going to the grocery store for milk and eggs, and being told at the cash register that you can’t have them unless you also buy a bucket of nails, a half-ton of iron ore, a book about cowboy poetry and a Barry Manilow album.
John F. Kennedy once said, “To govern is to choose.” Well, to govern by CR is not to choose, and therefore is not governing at all. Rather, the “continuing resolution” has become a corrupt instrument of the Washington status quo I was elected to try to change.
I reject the false, cynical premise that to pay our troops we must also fund “sanctuary cities”; that to support the FBI we must also give taxpayer bailouts to Obamacare insurance companies; that to keep national parks open we must also fund the IRS’s harassment of the president’s critics. This is the kind of cynical game that has earned Congress its historically low approval ratings.
In 2015, the new Republican majority at least tried to return to a meaningful budget process. We passed a formal — though non-binding — balanced budget plan in the spring. But it’s now clear its aspirational targets won’t be enforced. Indeed, President Obama has promised to veto any spending bills that adhere to the baseline spending levels he himself negotiated in 2011.
So, Washington is planning to pass another CR by Oct. 1. That’s bad enough.
But this dysfunctional process could be even more toxic than normal this year in the shadow of the ongoing Planned Parenthood scandal. In recent months, an ongoing series of undercover videos have connected Planned Parenthood to the harvesting and sale of aborted babies’ body parts. (If you haven’t seen the videos, trust me, they are blood-chilling.)
What does this have to do with the budget? Well, Planned Parenthood (PP) received nearly half-a-billion dollars in federal taxpayer money this year. In a functioning line-by-line budgeting process, we could take reasonable measures, like ending PP’s federal funding next year, or simply transferring its subsidies to community health centers.
But instead our choice will, as usual, be all or nothing. A vote for the CR will extend the entire broken status quo of the federal budget — including taxpayer subsidies to organizations profiting from the mutilation and sale of unborn children.
I’m sorry. This is not how government is supposed to work. What PP appears to be doing should have no place in our society, let alone the federal budget.
If that’s what’s in the CR, I can’t go along with it.
I cannot in good conscience vote to force the American people to fund abortion providers, like PP, who harvest and sell the organs of unborn babies for profit. The American people deserve better and should expect more.
The good news is that we still have close to a month before the end of the fiscal year. There is still time to fix all of this — to give the American people a serious, transparent budget process of debate, reform and compromise.
Congress should be willing to do what hardworking Americans always do when faced with intractable challenges — work late nights, early mornings and through the weekends. We owe it to the people who sent us to Washington to fix our broken government.
I certainly hope we do.