'Constitution-Minded' Republicans to Introduce Budget Authoritarianism

This is not an ambiguous document!

When the new Republican-controlled House gavels in tomorrow, legislative business will begin with a reading of the Constitution, a stunt brought about by what the Washington Post dubbed "the tea party-ization of Congress." More importantly, the House will also adopt new rules to determine how the legislative body operates over the next two years. One of the rules changes, though, flies in the face of the GOP's championing of governmental transparency and fairness.

After Republicans released their draft rule changes late last month, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities unearthed this gem:

[T]he new rules ... include a stunning and unprecedented provision authorizing the Chairman of the Budget Committee ... to submit for publication in the Congressional Record total spending and revenue limits and allocations of spending to committees ... and ... this submission “shall be considered as the completion of congressional action on a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year [FY] 2011.”

Steve Benen over at Washington Monthly observes, "If that sounds insane, that's because it is. Under the proposed rules, [Rep. Paul] Ryan [(R-WI), the expected chair of the House Budget Committee,] would be empowered to single-handedly establish spending levels if the House and Senate struggle to agree on a budget resolution. Just as important, Ryan's levels would be binding on the chamber, without even being subjected to a vote."

Rep. Ryan's office claims the rule is required because Democrats "oversaw an unprecedented breakdown in the budget process" this year and "failed to even propose a budget for the current fiscal year."

Those are pretty silly assertions. I suppose one could point out that House Democrats didn't produce a budget resolution out of political considerations because they knew Ryan and his cohorts would hang the budget and it's multi-trillion dollar figures around their necks during the mid-terms. Or, that Republicans in the Senate blocked an effort to pass an omnibus spending bill at the end of the lame duck session that would have funded the government for the entire fiscal year.

But leaving aside those points, what about House Democrats failing to pass a budget resolution is forcing Ryan's hand here and requiring the use of a "deem" and "pass" tactic on establishing spending levels? Is Congress running out of time to work out a budget?

In fact, Ryan and House Republican leaders have plenty of time to work out a budget with the Senate, but they're choosing not to and they're hiding behind partisan rhetoric and parliamentary procedures to impose a budget of their choosing. A budget, I might add, that's woefully misguided during a continued economic downturn.

It's important to point out that this power granted to Ryan applies only to the FY 2011 budget, but there are larger implications here. If the House is successful in strong-arming the Senate into accepting these drastic spending cuts then all future budgets will work from this new floor.

This is a troubling prospect for those that actually care about helping children, the elderly and low- and middle-income families; in other words, those most vulnerable to deep cuts to domestic discretionary spending.

Image by Flickr user kjd used under a Creative Commons license.

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