Mr. President, thank you. I just want to take a few minutes. A lot going on in the United States Senate, and I’m grateful for that. I hope we can resolve our differences and begin to work on policy. Personnel do matter, but what I wanted to highlight as we look at the agenda for the United States Senate – before we look at the agenda for this congress and the federal government – is the appropriations process.
Mr. President, one of my goals as a member of the United States Senate – I didn’t expect this when I was elected, I didn’t expect there to be a problem – what I want to see is the United States Senate function. And all hundred United States Senators, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, ought to take a great deal of responsibility for seeing that this place, the United States Senate, gives each senator the opportunity to present his or her ideas to represent his or her constituents and to make a difference on their behalf.
One of the ways that we can do this is in the way that we appropriate money. The appropriations process is important and, at the moment, we’re operating under a continuing resolution that expires in a few months. And we’ve had lots of conversations about the first two hundred days of this congress, of the first two hundred days of this administration. We’ve talked about the importance of confirming executive nominations. We talk about the importance of dealing with the consequences of the Affordable Care Act. We’ve talked about the need, the desire to repeal regulations that are onerous and damaging to our ability to create jobs. We certainly talked about the need to do overhaul in a comprehensive way on the United States tax code. Mr. President, I want to raise to my colleagues attention, and hopefully generate awareness about one of the things that seem to be missing in that discussion about what our agenda is our agenda should be: the necessity of doing appropriation bills.
The way this place is supposed to work is by law, April 15th we are to have passed a budget, and then twelve separate appropriation bills march their way through the Appropriations Committee, come to the Senate floor where they are available for amendment discussion, debate by every member of the United States Senate. We ultimately pass each of those twelve appropriation bills and send them to the House or vice-versa. And those twelve appropriations bills fill in the blanks. But unfortunately, what has happened way too often is we’ve gotten into the habit of passing something we call a continuing resolution. Continuing resolution means that we’re going to fund the federal government its agencies and departments at the same level of spending next year as we did this year, and that suggests that there is no ability to prioritize how we should spend money. That’s poor government. And, in fact, if you’ve had continuing resolutions year after year, the priorities of spending that were in place two, three, four years ago become the priority of spending next year and so it would, in my view, be a terrible mistake for us to reach the conclusion that we can do no better than a continuing resolution in the appropriations process this year that takes us to the end of the fiscal year.
And it’s not just about priorities. I mean, we need to get spending under control, and in fact the appropriations process has generally done that. That’s a reasonably flat line in the growth of government spending on the discretionary side – the things that the Appropriations Committee deals with, the things that we as senators deal with on an annual basis. But in addition to determining priorities and levels of spending the other reason that this is important—it is our opportunity to influence decisions made by various agencies, departments and bureaus of the federal government. In my view, the Constitution of the United States created the Congress, congressional branch, the legislative branch, for reasons of trying to restrain executive power. And when we do a continuing resolution, we leave so much discretion, so much power, in the executive branch. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Republican president or Democrat president, Congress is here to protect the American people from an ever-encroaching desire on any administration to garner more power and to make more influence in the nation. Congress has the ability, if it will use that ability to restrain executive action.
We’re going through a series of Congressional Review Act procedures in which we are rejecting regulations made in the final days of the past administration. But a more effective, long-term approach to dealing with the expansive nature of the bureaus, departments and agencies is to have an appropriations process in which the agency head, the cabinet secretary, the bureau chief, knows that his or her relationship with Congress may determine how much money he or she has to spend within that agency. When we do a continuing resolution there is little reason for an agency head, a cabinet secretary or bureau chief to pay attention to congress; and that’s contrary to the constitutional provisions giving us the responsibility to appropriate money. And it continues the practice of an administration expanding their role in the lives of Americans and its businesses.
So, we need an appropriations process different than just a continuing resolution. We need to have the opportunity for agency heads to know that the appropriations process is going to matter to them. It causes them to have conversations and discussions with us gives us the ability to tell an executive branch official: ‘This doesn’t work in my state. This is very damaging. This rule or regulation that you’re proposing is harmful. Can you go back and do it a different way? Do you understand what this means in this circumstance?’
And again, our leverage to have those conversations is often whether or not the level we’re going to appropriate money and what that level of spending will be for that agency. The other aspect of this is, in the absence of that dialogue and change of heart by that agency head, we then have the ability we then have the ability to say as a Congress, ‘no money can be spent to implement this idea, this regulation, this rule.’ So while we focus attention rightfully so on Congressional Review Act in its limitations, its ability to limit and, in this case, repeal and reject regulations; the long-term ability to reign in any administration that exceeds its authority and operates in a way that develops regulations that lack common sense and appreciation of how they might affect everyday Americans is through the appropriations process. And a continuing resolution will, once again, take away the constitutionally mandated, the constitutional responsibility we have in doing our jobs to protect the freedoms and liberties of the American people.
So, Mr. President, we’ve had a lot of conversations about what we’re going to try to accomplish and one of the things that I want to make sure is on the agenda, that when the time comes – which is now – the conversation is – well, I hope the conversation isn’t: ‘Well, we’ve run out of time. We’re just going to do another continuing resolution and fund the federal government for the next few months at the same level as we did last year.’
We need to exert our authorities to make sure that the American people are out of harm’s way from what the government can do. The constitution was created to protect Americans from an ever-expansive government, and it only works when Congress works.
Mr. President, the time is short. We hear that the administration is going to offer supplementals or amended requests for additional spending, especially in the defense arena. We need to get our appropriations work completed so they have an opportunity to supplement to make suggestions to congress about what that appropriation bill should finally look like, and we are close to failing in our responsibility to do that.
Congress needs to do its work. Every hundred members of the United States Senate can have their opportunity to have input in how money is spent. We can defend and protect the taxpayer. We can defend and protect the consumer. We can defend and protect the job creator. We can defend and protect the employee, but not if we don’t do our work. Not if we don’t do appropriation bills and we rely once again upon this technique of shrugging our shoulders, throwing our hands in the air and saying the best we can do is to tell an agency their spending authorities are the same next year as they were last year. We need to do our work. We need attention, the appropriations process should begin, and I ask my colleagues to give serious thought to helping accomplish that. Mr. President, I yield the floor.