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False Sense of Accomplishment

July 22, 2020
Weekly Columns

During the first couple weeks of July, the House Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, met for a marathon of legislative markups. Specifically, we worked through the 12 annual bills that fund the federal government. While I am always encouraged to see this critical process moving forward in Congress, the bills as written provide a false sense of accomplishment. Because of the deeply flawed approach taken by Democrats, the process has unfortunately been made more complicated and will ultimately make it more difficult to negotiate final versions with the Senate that can actually become law.

It’s important to remember that nearly a year ago Congress passed – and President Trump signed into law – the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which set budgetary levels for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. This bipartisan and bicameral compromise was the result of a good faith negotiation between the president and congressional leaders. However, despite this existing agreement, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee chose to write bills that greatly exceed the spending limits allowed for fiscal year 2021. In fact, they did so through extensive use of a budget gimmick that designates certain funds as “emergency.”

To be clear, there are many worthwhile items and priorities included in these 12 bills reported by the committee and expected to clear the Democratic-led House by the end of the month. But I am very concerned about the use of emergency designated funds as a workaround and scheme to break the 2019 budget agreement between the two parties and with the president. Democrats can spin it however they’d like. It still violates the budget agreement both chambers are lawfully bound to uphold. Moreover, this short-sighted approach creates less certainty for many important priorities over the long-term. 

For example, over the last six years, Congress has gradually increased base funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Amid the coronavirus crisis, that incremental investment in our nation’s biomedical infrastructure has clearly made a difference. In fact, it has helped position the NIH to search for life-saving treatments and begin rapid clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine. Unfortunately, rather than continuing to grow this regular investment that enables our researchers to find cures and treatments for maladies well beyond coronavirus, Democrats designated almost the entire NIH funding increase this year as emergency. 

Aside from their use of budget gimmicks, I am disappointed that Democrats left out some longstanding and bipartisan provisions and added in several controversial and partisan policy riders. Among many others, this includes language that ties the hands of the Administration on matters of national security and changes policy that protects life.

When it comes to Congress’ fundamental function of keeping the government open and operating, good faith negotiation must be present at every stage. In this era of divided government, that might be challenging, but we’ve proven time and again that it’s certainly not impossible. Unfortunately, things are clearly off to a rocky start with the Democratic-led process in the House.