Yesterday, the Senate shot down two competing continuing resolutions (“CRs”)—a House proposal (H.R. 1) and a Senate bill (S. Amdt. 149)—to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. The failure of these budget proposals means we’re essentially back at square one. So what should Congress take from this to guide its subsequent attempt to pass a budget? One lesson would be: Next time, keep it clean!
While the CRs introduced by the House and Senate were vastly different in terms of funding, they had one thing in common—neither of them were “clean.” In other words, they did not deal solely with funding the government, as appropriations bills should. Instead, they contained measures legislating substantive policy issues. For example, the House CR contained over 500 riders, including multiple provisions that would restrict the Environmental Protection Agency from fulfilling its mandate to ensure we have clean air and clean water. Additionally, both the House (section 1704) and Senate (section 1709) proposals contained provisions that would remove gray wolves in the northern Rockies from the Endangered Species Act, setting a dangerous precedent for species by species delistings based on politics, rather than science. None of these provisions have anything to do with our country’s budget and cutting the deficit. Additionally, including them in budget legislation goes against the GOP’s pledge to “end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with ‘must pass’ legislation.”
Why is it so important for a CR to be “clean”? First, “dirty” CRs (ie., ones that contain policy provisions) delay the budget process significantly as they force Members to learn about and consider a huge number of amendments in a very limited amount of time. Second, Members use CRs as vehicles to push through measures that might not pass under the normal legislative process, which includes hearings, committee action, and other opportunities for Members to educate themselves on issues. Third, both Houses have created rules against making policy in appropriations legislation in most cases, suggesting that they know it’s a terrible practice, but continue to do it anyway.
Especially with government shutdown looming, it is crucial that Congress pass a bill to fund our government until October. To do this, it needs to stick to the basics like funding our military. Crippling funding cuts that make it impossible to implement our most fundamental environmental laws are equally unacceptable, but as Congress should have learned from the past few weeks, adding extraneous policy measures to budget proposals diminishes Congress’s ability to pass necessary legislation in an expeditious manner. Hopefully, our representatives will take this lesson to heart and the next budget proposal will be just what it’s supposed to be—a funding bill—and nothing else.