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The Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee announced on Monday that the House of Representatives was in a “stand down” mode. Congress is just over two weeks away from its scheduled final adjournment, and not one of the annual appropriations bills has been sent to the president. The Senate hasn’t even passed a budget resolution. And they are in a “stand down” mode?
The sticking point is money – specifically your money. The House of Representatives has been forced to stand down because the leadership cannot figure out how to pass what is called the Labor, HHS, Education appropriations bill. It is the largest of the domestic spending bills. Last year it totaled $123 billion to fund – among other things - federal education programs, the labor department, the Surgeon General, the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control. President Bush, in his budget, requested that this bill in particular receive a 5.3% increase, well above the rate of inflation.
The conservative members of the Republican caucus have told the leadership they will not support spending levels higher than the president’s request. The moderate members of the Republican caucus have told the leadership they will not support the President’s spending level – they want it increased significantly. And, the Democrats, sit chuckling and vow not to support anything the Republican leadership bring to the floor for a vote. The other spending bills cannot come to the floor until the Labor, HHS, Education bill is dealt with – so the House remains in stand down mode two and half weeks before adjournment.
Are the firebrand conservatives being unreasonable? Perhaps it depends on your ideological viewpoint but facts do matter. First, this is your money that they’re arguing about spending. Second, spending on these programs has exploded in the past six years despite being under Republican control. In 1996, Congress appropriated $63.2 billion for this particular bill. By 2002, it had doubled to $123.9 billion. Doubling spending in just six years is a massive spending increase, regardless of your ideological viewpoint.
President Bush’s request continues the trend of very generous spending increases for this bill. I wish he hadn’t done that, but comparatively, he is showing real restraint. House Republican moderates can’t live with a 5 percent increase for a bill that has already doubled in the past six years? Why not?
The answer, of course is politics. We have an election in a little over six weeks. Politicians love to spend our money before an election.
Unfortunately, things are worse over in the Tom Daschle led Senate. They haven’t even passed a budget resolution – a requirement under the law. Without a budget, the Senate has no limit on how much it can spend, and Senator Robert Byrd has made it very clear that he wants to spend a lot more than even the moderate House Republicans. Senator Byrd is so set on increasing spending that he won’t even talk to the President’s Director of Office of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels because the President has the gall to propose moderate spending restraint.
So what is to be done? What is going to happen to break the log-jam. We cannot wait for the politicians to do the right thing. Instead it’s up to us, the people to do something about it. It’s our money, but if we want to see some fiscal restraint, we have to fight for it. Politicians worried about elections are trying to increase spending – because they are rewarded for it. We have to change that dynamic. We have to make it more politically popular for them to cut spending than to increase it. The politicians urging fiscal restraint have to be the ones with popular opinion on their side. To this end we have to mobilize our neighbors and friends and flood congressional offices with letters and phone calls demanding an end to the “stand-down mode.”
The message is simple: Pass the President’s budget and keep spending in check. Let’s make sure we do everything we can to send the message loud and clear.