Time for Congress’s Spending Decisions to Go on the Record

Under the leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House of Representatives has been engaging in a review of the rules of the House through Organizational Task Force meetings and the House Rules Committee. This is a needed and courageous exercise. Citizens of all political backgrounds can agree that Congress needs to reform the way it works. A key way for that to happen is to make sure committees hold recorded votes on big-ticket items before they come to the House floor for a vote.

Too often, legislation that will spend a great deal of money is passed in committees by voice vote. Often, committee members are encouraged to let a bill pass by voice vote and not by a recorded vote. In fact, this year, nine of the 12 spending bills approved by the House Appropriations Committee were passed by voice vote at full committee.

These nine voice votes appropriated billions of dollars. They were passed by the committee and ready for floor action, pending action by the House Rules Committee, without a single member of the House Appropriations Committee having had their vote recorded. This practice allows members and committees to evade responsibility for their actions.

This can be accomplished by a change in the rules of the House that will also apply to other committees when they authorize spending: any measure appropriating or authorizing the appropriations of $100 million or more must have a recorded vote at committee.

Why $100 million? Last year, the House passed H.R. 427, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2015 (REINS Act), by a wide margin of 243 to 165. This legislation "would require Congress and the president to approve major regulations (those with an economic effect of $100 million or more) before they could take effect. Congress would be granted 70 days to vote affirmatively to adopt such regulations."