06.11.2014 1

Exercising the power of the purse

By Rick Manning

“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”— U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 9, clause 7

Our nation’s founders provided Congress with the ultimate tool to rein in an out of control Executive Branch by vesting the power of the purse with Congress.

capitolThis power gives Congress, starting with the House of Representatives, the responsibility to choose which government initiatives to fund and which not to fund.  This decision making process has been at the core of the repeated fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns, and Continuing Resolution battles that our nation has witnessed over the past few years.

While some bemoan that the politicians in D.C. cannot get along, the exercise of this Constitutional power is one of the few vehicles the Legislative Branch has to direct the Executive Branch’s regulatory policies and priorities.

In the past, the federal government spending process has been marred by a lobbyist feeding frenzy as the seagulls of K Street have descended upon Congress seeking financial goodies for their clients.  Now, the Republican reforms that ended most earmarks have changed the appropriations process dramatically for the better.

House Speaker Boehner deserves a great deal of credit for this change.  His decision to let funding bills come to the floor of the House under an open rule, allows all House members to offer amendments and vote on spending decisions that shape the Executive Branch’s priorities.

Two notable examples of these defund riders have occurred in the past two weeks.

In considering the appropriation for the Commerce Department, the House voted in favor of an amendment by Representative Sean Duffy (R-Wisc.) to defund Obama Administration attempts to transfer control over basic Internet functions to unelected, international stakeholders who would not be constrained by First Amendment protections against censorship.  This vote puts the full House of Representatives on the record against this giveaway, and sets the stage for a likely battle with the Senate over the policy.

And just this week, on June 10, the House voted in favor of an amendment by Representative Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to defund a Department of Housing and Urban Development attempt to federalize local zoning decisions under a misguided attempt by the Obama Administration to achieve numerical racial equality in every community using community development grants as the cudgel.

These two votes showcase exactly why everyone who cares about limited, constitutional government should take an active interest in the appropriations process.  They also demonstrate the shift away from the traditional closed room funding process, toward an open and honest discussion on the priorities facing our nation.

As this shift occurs, it is hoped that budget hawks become the dominant force on the Appropriations Committees, using their oversight functions to dig deep into government programs to not only root out waste, but also to rollback and eliminate programs that go beyond the proper scope of the federal government.

This transition of the Appropriations Committee from a spending to a budget cutting arm of Congress would truly be change we can believe in.

Rick Manning (@rmanning957 and Rmanning@getliberty.org) is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government.

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