The Grinch who Stole Christmas in Washington

  • Politics

Tom McClusky,

The Christmas season is here again. Time for caroling, presents, and hot chocolate by the fire. Oh, and of course for Congressional scrambling to pass a humongous last-minute spending bill that threatens pro-life policies.

The U.S. Constitution makes clear the role of Congress when it comes to spending. Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 contains the Appropriations Clause and the Statement and Accounts Clause: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.” Yet Congress continues to fail in this Constitutional duty, doing a great disservice to the taxpayers who elect them.

The 1974 Congressional Budget Act mandates the appropriations process in detail. The President first submits his budget proposal (which is routinely ignored and even mocked by the House and Senate). The House and Senate then pass their own budget proposals. This process lays out the overall spending framework for the coming year. But in seven of the last fifteen fiscal years, no formal budget resolution has been passed.

In the absence of a formal budget resolution, the next step becomes the annual appropriations process which includes a series of about a dozen bills that fund various departments and agencies in the federal government. These bills contain over two dozen pro-life provisions. More commonly called riders, the most well-known provision is the Hyde Amendment that prohibits tax dollars to pay directly for abortions through Medicaid.

Since 1997, Congress has even failed to pass more than a third of these regular appropriations bills on time. Between 2011 and 2016, not a single spending bill was passed by Oct. 1. The last time Congress passed all the regular appropriations bills that fund various departments and agencies in the federal government on time was over two decades ago in 1996.

Instead, Congress has spent the last 20 years passing more than 175 different short-term funding bills at the last minute. 

Waiting until the eleventh hour to handle spending packages not only contributes to the dysfunction of Congress, it also puts pro-life priorities, many of which are included in the annual spending bills, at nonstop and unnecessary risk. For example, Senate Republican Leadership, at the behest of Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), added language that undermines President Donald Trump’s pro-life foreign policy in the last-minute spending bill. This provision was left out of the final bill. But even when Republican Leadership is able to “save” the pro-life provisions, that save is used as a bludgeon by Leadership to push fiscally responsible Members to vote for an omnibus bill that they have no time to read or review. And now, tax extenders that affect health care and have no restrictions of taxpayer funds going to abortions were included by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) at the last minute.  

The Senate, to its credit, is fulfilling part of its Constitutional duty by confirming an unprecedented number of judges. However, that body shares responsibility for the dysfunctional process that is how our government is funded – a result that might be different if the average Senate workweek was more than 2.5 days, just a bit longer than the lifespan of a mayfly.

If the current haphazard way of dealing with spending legislation continues, the pro-life community should be prepared to re-evaluate how we treat all annual Appropriations packages – regardless of whether there is an immediate threat to the life issue. It will have to become a top priority for us to move pro-life protections out of the annual spending process and into law. This would mean changing how we hold elected officials accountable and also changing faces of those elected officials, of both parties, who prove to be obstacles to our ultimate goal: protecting the unborn.

Tom McClusky, President of March for Life Action