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The Sausage Factory

Three Down. Nine to Go.

Congress has sent the first of three spending bills to the President’s desk more than two weeks ahead of the end of the federal fiscal year. Two decades ago, this wouldn’t be news. Today, it is because the last time Congress enacted a full-year appropriation before the start of the upcoming fiscal year was for FY 2010. Since then, Congress has always started the fiscal year with temporary continuing resolutions (CRs), instead of doing the hard work of passing the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government.

This year, we’re seeing something different.

After U.S. Senate approval (92-5), the U.S. House passed on a 377-20 vote to provide $147 billion to the Departments of Energy and Veterans Affairs “as well as congressional operations, water projects and military construction for fiscal 2019,” according to Politico. The minibus of three bills “also provides additional Overseas Contingency Operations/ Global War on Terrorism funding which is exempt from discretionary spending limits,” reported CBS News.

Those vote totals are a great display of bipartisanship during a time when political divisions are threatening to tear the country apart. The vitriol over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination stands in stark contrast to the collegiality shown today.

For decades, funding the government was something that Congress did as a matter of regular business. The authorizing committees held oversight hearings, bringing in agency and department personnel to answer program questions, and determined what deserved to continue to receive funding. The appropriations committees in the House and Senate determined how much money was allocated. Then both Chambers voted on the bills, and then each bill went to the President for his signature.

After so many years of budget dysfunction, this accomplishment should not be minimized.  The most important job of any legislature is budgeting.  Very soon, the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriation Process Reform will be making its report to the Congress trying to improve the budget process so that the idea of passing authorization and appropriation bills is routine again.  The special committee, made up of an equal number of Representatives and Senators, as well as an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, has been holding hearings and studying budget reforms since March.

The time for budget reform is now – and from the looks of things this is something the members of both parties on the Hill will have the opportunity to make happen.  The different parties can disagree about levels of taxes and spending, but regardless of their ideology, no agenda can pass unless the budget process works.

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