Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee had an opportunity to act on behalf of the American people by holding a markup of the fiscal years 2008 and 2009 emergency supplemental bill, which will appropriate funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other critical needs of the nation.
Unfortunately, markup was canceled as the speaker of the House failed to forge the necessary consensus within her own party — let alone with House Republicans — on the size, scope, or procedures for consideration of this important legislation. The speaker’s flawed strategy to jam the supplemental through the House has resulted in no progress on either side of the Capitol.
Patience with the House must be wearing thin for the Senate majority leader and Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, both of whom know the difference between forward movement and walking in circles. It must be wearing thin, too, for members of our Armed Forces at home and abroad who need the supplemental funds for operational and personnel requirements.
To his credit, the Senate chairman made clear he will move forward with a markup regardless of House action on the supplemental. The challenge now is for the majority leader to demonstrate similar determination, fortitude and concern for the welfare of our troops, and to break ranks with the House speaker and allow the committee-passed legislation full and fair consideration on the Senate floor. He should resist the temptation to outright ignore the committee’s recommendations or to “fill the amendment tree” as he recently did during consideration of the Federal Aviation Administration bill.
How did Congress get itself into this gridlock? The short answer is that the speaker and majority leader placed expediency and control over regular order and transparency, and pursued a strategy that would bypass House and Senate Committee markup, thus forcing the supplemental bill through both bodies with limited debate.
Instead of allowing discussion and amendments on perhaps the only appropriations bill to be enacted into law this year, the Democratic leadership has chosen a flawed strategy of congressional self-censorship. In fact, the legislation the Senate Committee will consider has already been largely pre-negotiated with the House.
What is particularly frustrating for many on Capitol Hill is that, with the exception of the eleventh-hour submission of a fiscal 2009 budget amendment by the Office of Management and Budget, the supplemental request by the president has been pending in Congress for more than 14 months.
That may be the gestation period of a donkey, but it should not be how long it takes to consider and pass a funding bill necessary to sustain our troops abroad and other national security programs.
The duties and responsibility of the Congress are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, including in Article 1, Section 8 which provides Congress the power to “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States” and in Article 1, Section 9 that states that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by law.”
The consequences of bypassing markup in the House, and limiting debate on the floors of both legislative bodies, will be dire. Decisionmaking power shifts away from deliberative committee consensus to the individual determinations of respective committee chairmen, and the majority leader and speaker of the House.
Transparency and accountability are the first casualties. Those concerned with “airdropping” of earmarks should be prepared for an “air assault” of funding and policy decisions by a powerful few.
As the number of Americans who disapprove of Congress continues to grow — 68 percent of Americans, according to an April 2008 CBS News/New York Times poll — the majority leader and speaker would be wise to allow Congress to debate and amend the supplemental in Committee and on the floor in an expeditious manner.
To do anything less would be a gross dereliction of congressional duty.
Thad Cochran of Mississippi is ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire is the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and on the Senate Budget Committee.