As Republicans take full control of the Legislative Branch with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell still at the helm, Americans can expect the same self-serving dysfunction seen in 2014 to continue. Because the 114th Congress will continue the work of the 113th Congress, their final major act of 2014 offers insight into the agenda of the newly seated Congress.
Emboldened by their 2014 mid-term victory built on a lack of voter turnout, Republicans appear compelled to attack whatever priorities they chose to pursue. One of those priorities was giving Wall Street a Christmas present in the form of weakened financial regulations that were enacted to correct the situation that caused the 2008-2009 recession.
Considering the critical nature and complexity of the subject matter, responsible Republicans should never have been willing to target the Dodd-Frank Act through the so-called “Cromnibus” spending bill spending. Not only is it thoroughly hypocritical in the face of their never-ending criticism of Obamacare, relegislating through the appropriations process is an abuse of power.
Republicans should have waited to use their newfound control over the next Congress to push for regulatory reform through an independent, well-considered piece of legislation. Instead, they chose to use an impending government shutdown as leverage to force a compromise based on the priorities of the GOP and the Democratic Party, not the American People.
As classic Washington goes, the gift giving must go two ways. For their present, the Republican-dominated House chose to increase campaign donor limits from $194,400 per individual per election cycle to $1.6 million dollars per individual per election cycle. This means wealthy donors might soon be able to expand their “stage presence” by dumping even more money into campaigns in order drown out the voices of voters and push their agendas.
Since the Supreme Court in the infamous Citizens United case decided money is protected free speech, there has been an increased need to address the undue influence of special interests. Unfortunately, this counterproductive measure will only make things worse.
Republicans may have a reputation for sabotaging and abusing the legislative process, but Democrats also share in the blame. Despite the potential harm of these and other provisions, the most outrageous aspect of this return to classic Washington insider politics-driven policy is the way they abuse the power of the purse.
The House Appropriations Committee is considered the most powerful committee on Capitol Hill, but it should have little power to no real power. After all, it does not play a role in the actual legislative process.
The Appropriations Committee exists to oversee how government spends money. As such, the Appropriations Committee needs to be limited to an oversight and “book keeping” role by Congress finding ways to restrict the ability of the Appropriations Committee to rewrite legislation through spending priorities.
By doing so, the legislative power the House Appropriations Committee has inappropriately appropriated for itself would be returned to the various committees that are charged with expertly crafting legislation.
The inherent role of the Appropriations Committee makes it very difficult to control how it prioritizes spending, but there needs to be debate and action on ways to do just that.
On December 11 1865, the House Ways and Means Committee lost much of its power when its ballooning responsibilities were divided among three committees. Given the US Federal Budget has swollen to $3.9 trillion from just over half a billion dollars in the post Civil War era, dividing the responsibilities of Appropriations Committee is likely overdue.
Moreover, eliminating the way a handful of elected officials can abuse the appropriations process to relegislate existing law they find political inconvenient would do a great deal to end the dysfunctional and underhanded nature of Congress.