Show Me The (Regular Order) Money

Close-up of the Capitol's dome with the US flagCongress is getting ready to pack up and leave town for the August recess. And they have had a BANG UP year so far. And by BANG UP, I mean they’ve done pretty much diddly squat.

So far, the 113th Congress has passed 22 whole laws. Yep. 22. To give you an idea of how that stacks up to previous Congresses, in the 112th Congress, they passed 283 laws. In the 111th, they passed 383. In the 110th, the total was 460. Even considering that we’re not even at the halfway mark of the 113th Congress, these guys are still on track to be the least productive Congress legislatively in over a decade.

“But, yeah, OK,” you’re saying, “maybe we don’t actually NEED any new laws.” Maybe we don’t. Maybe we’re doing just fine and there’s no call for the legislature to legislate. Maybe government programs and regulations are all hunky-dory. I’m willing to consider that. Except in the case of appropriations bills.

OK, let me explain a few nuts and bolts here. This is an excerpt from a post I wrote on my blog Stay At Home Pundit a couple of years ago and it covers the budget and appropriations process for you. Skip it if you already know how that works:

There are two parts to how the government spends money: the budget and the appropriations process. The budget is a plan for how much the government is allowed to spend in a year. Appropriations are a plan for how the breakdown of spending actually occurs. Sort of like your paycheck is your top-line for household spending and you then break it down into smaller spending allotments to cover actual needs.

The budget has to come first. In a normal year, the President, with input from all the federal agencies, creates a budget proposal that details what he thinks the government should be doing and how much he thinks they need to spend to do it. He presents that to the House and Senate and they laugh, throw it over their shoulders and write their own versions of a budget based on their own set of ideas and priorities. The House releases their version first (that may be a hard and fast rule or tradition, I can’t remember right now). It’s usually radically different than the President’s version and filled with incredibly partisan concepts specific to the party in leadership at the time. The Senate then looks down their snooty noses at the House version and writes a third version of the budget which usually looks totally grounded in reality compared to whatever the House proposed.

Then there’s a flurry of hearings, votes, speeches, press conferences, and arguments on the two different versions. Eventually, the two chambers figure out a compromise that everyone can live with and also complain about on TV. That’s called the Budget Resolution.

Once the top-line spending allowances for the year are set up, the appropriations committee takes those numbers and divides them up and allocates them to different programs. That process also starts in the House and is just as messy and combative as the budget process only more lobbyists get involved because they want to make sure that when the pie is divided up, their piece is as big as it can be.

Usually, all of this is accomplished in the first half of the calendar year. The government’s fiscal year goes from October 1 to September 30 so spending appropriations need to be established by the end of September in order for agencies to be allowed to draw money to operate in the next fiscal year. Without appropriations bills signed into law, the money stops flowing.

Got it? It’s pretty easy and should happen via regular order every year like clockwork.

Want to know the last time Congress passed regular order appropriations? 2009. 200-fucking-9. For the past FOUR YEARS we have been operating on a series of continuing resolutions that extend spending by a matter of weeks or months. The levels in the CRs are either the same as or less than the last amount appropriated through regular order. There are also cuts that happened due to the sequestration process so no spending allocations are reflective of how much it costs to actually run an agency. It’s all the end product of political horse trading designed to maximize electability.

Now, back to the clown car that is the 113th Congress. They’re a scant eight weeks from the end of the fiscal year and need to allocate monies for the next one. Want to know how many appropriations bills they’ve passed into law? Zero. The House has passed five and the Senate has passed one out of 12 that are supposed to happen annually. No conference committees to come up with compromise bills for both chambers to send on to the President. Hell, they didn’t even conference a Budget Resolution. They’re making it all up as they go.

As a taxpayer, I’m angry and appalled by this. I know most people get hung up on the substance of what their tax dollars buy, but I’m more upset by the process by which they’re spent. These guys – these people elected to represent my interests – are working along the margins of the law to make spending decisions with minimal accountability. They aren’t doing it to promote the common good, as the Constitution directs them to do, but to promote the chance of gaining a party majority. They give not one single damn about you or me. They care about themselves and winning at the team sport that our political system as become.

I don’t know what to do to change the culture in Congress to one that respects the facility of government operations and proceeds along regular order to ensure proper budget and appropriations. All I know is that this has gone on too long already. It’s time for change.

Rebekah Kuschmider is a D.C. area mom with an over-developed sense of irreverence, socialist tendencies, a cable news addiction, and a blog. Rebekah has an undergraduate degree in theater and Master’s in Arts Policy and Administration and a decade of experience managing arts organizations and advocating in the public health sector.  Rebekah also blogs about her life, her thoughts, and her opinions at was voted one of the Top 25 Political Mom Blogs at Circle of Moms. Her work has also been seen at, Redbook online, and the Huffington Post.

Image via iStockphoto/Joe Gough

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