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Capitol Hill This Week…. Both sides of the Capitol continue to seek an exit strategy this week as the election looms three short weeks away. Hopes for adjourning sine die (for the year) have faded as a lame duck session has become all but inevitable. It is expected that both the House and Senate will consider a longer term Continuing Resolution (CR) this week. The past few resolutions have provided only a week of funding but this latest will probably take them through the elections until November 22nd. In the meantime, expectations for this week are low. The House only expects to take up the CR, and a possible tax bill this week. There are still some conference reports (Energy, Terrorism Re-insurance, Homeland Security) that may come up, but it is doubtful.
The Senate meanwhile will pass a few conference reports and make another attempt at passing the Homeland Security bill. Bogged down over the personnel issue. The bill was pulled in favor of the Iraq resolution last week. Although Majority Leader Daschle is threatening to keep the Senate in up to and during the election in a bid to force some movement on legislation, most likely they will follow the lead of the House and adjourn at the end of the week until mid-November.
Legislating at the Margins
Recess is on everyone’s mind this week – and obviously members are anxious to get home to campaign for their seats. But hopefully, after all of the election craziness, there may be some time for reflection. Members may ask themselves, what did I accomplish this year and am I proud of the accomplishments? Or maybe they will even ask – what have I done to further the cause of economic freedom this year? I know it is a long shot, but we can hope. The problem is that the voices championing economic freedom in the name of the taxpayer have waned of late.
Last year’s appropriations bills may be symptomatic. When the Republicans took the majority, the annual pay raise was addressed head-on with conservatives leading the charge for restraint. Now no one dares to even consider introducing an amendment to halt the Congressional pay raise. The Interior appropriations bill used to have several “green scissors” amendments (Amendments to cut environmentally harmful and wasteful programs from the federal budget) that would align fiscal conservatives with hard core environmentalists. Last year there was the obligatory amendment on the National Endowment for the Arts but the rest of the bill sailed through Congress.
In the past, a strong contingent of conservative faithful could be counted on to take the taxpayers’ concerns to the House floor – raising a ruckus and causing mayhem. Conservative budgets every year that were the dread of leadership, and the crystallizing appropriations amendments made the point even if they lost by a vote of 355 to 80. But, now most bills have been vetted and shepherded through the process so they come to the floor with at least a 30-vote margin. While the conservative amendments are still offered they are tempered and have been sanctioned, which takes most of the fun out of it.
For the most part, these changes were inevitable. With Republicans having such a tight majority, conservatives are loathe to fight the power of big government. Having to buck leadership and align with Democrats who might have the same goal for different reasons does not make them many friends. And individual bills tend to carry items of interest for most members so even though they may not support the entire bill they still need to support their specific items. Also, the conservatives have become a bit smarter. They now use their power to affect change BEFORE a bill comes to the House floor. The stalemate over the Labor, HHS Appropriations bill that is currently holding up the FY 2003 appropriations process is a case in point. While they deserve credit for better strategic outreach it does make it harder to track their perceived gains.
While the elections will interrupt the FY 2003 appropriations process, I don’t suspect things will change dramatically this year. So we need to look to 2003 for change. A non-election year presents the perfect opportunity for economic conservatives to re-assert themselves. Some recommendations for reinvigorating the conservative agenda include:
Force a vote on the congressional pay raise – Someone should every year force a vote on whether or not to provide the members of Congress with a pay raise. By allowing it to increase automatically all members are complicit in its continuing rise.
Form a Government waste working group – Federal agencies are notorious for their inefficiencies and abuse. Over the past two years there have been a few select examples of this abuse that have been highlighted and eradicated, but for the most part the authorizing bills have focused more on giving these agencies MORE responsibilities as opposed to taking some away.
Re-institute green scissors caucus – while some of their ideas may not be in line with conservative ideals they promote some very good cost cutting recommendations that could save billions of dollars. Some of these include:
Economic conservatism cannot be taken for granted. Legislators need to realize that maintaining fiscal conservancy and fighting for the taxpayer is a job that takes twenty-four hours seven days a week. And as supporters of the principles of limited government and lower taxes, we must continue to provide lawmakers with the ability to challenge the forces of big government. We cannot falter or wane, as the penchant for big government and the ‘go along to get along’ mentality is just too strong.