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The congressional nutcases have a point

The congressional nutcases have a point

Why all the drama over the budgeting process?  How can a handful of legislators block the entire process?  Why are they doing it?

Establishing the federal budget is a long and very complicated and contentious process. I shall try to offer a simple explanation. 

Before getting into the issues of today, we need to understand the process of producing a federal budget – at least how it is supposed to work.  The first thing to keep in mind is that the budget process officially starts in the House. So how does it all start?

  1. The various departments and agencies of government present budget requests. They always ask for more money than the previous year even if they have tons of money left over.  They try to spend the overage asap at the end of the budget year so that they look like they need more money.  It is called “fourth quarter dumping.” The requests go to various House committees for review.
  2. The House also gets budget requests from the White House for new or expanded programs. This is known as the White House budget, but it is only a recommendation, the House establishes the official budget.
  3. All the requests that flow into the various committees and subcommittees of the House are then consolidated into 12 major budget areas.  These are then SUPPOSED to be considered and passed by 12 subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee.  They are Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor, Legislative Branch, Military, Foreign Operations, and Transportation.  Then the entire package is voted on by the ENTIRE House after debate.
  4. The budget goes to the Senate which passes the budget after some debate. 
  5. When approved by both the House and the Senate, the budget goes to the President to be signed or vetoed.

It has worked that way for most of America’s history.  But NOT in recent years.  The Congress has devised a system of circumventing the budgeting process by … NOT producing and passing a budget.  In fact, Congress has not produced a budget since _____.   Instead, they use something called a “Continuing Resolutions” (CR) or “omnibus appropriation bills.”  The Congress uses the CR to continue the old budget … almost.  The CR carries the old numbers forward with a few tweaks to allow for increases, of course. 

A CR can extend the budget for months or merely days.  It merely establishes the next crisis date. If the House fails to pass a CR, the government shuts down – well almost.  Essential services continue operating for an extended period.

Instead of Congress debating and passing the 12 appropriation bills as intended, they may lump them all into one gigantic and unmanageable bill called an “omnibus.”  It is much too large to debate, so the House votes on it with blinders on.

What is going on today?

Based on media reports, you might think that a half dozen Republican legislators are holding up the entire budgeting process and causing a shutdown. But that is impossible. A handful of legislators cannot block the process unless it has help – lots of help.  And where is that help coming from?  THE DEMOCRATS.  There are more than enough votes in the House to pass a CR – and even a bipartisan budget.  But Democrats are standing on the sidelines.  They are refusing to vote on any CR until all the Republicans first agree to vote on it.  In which case they will not need to vote on it.  They are refusing to participate because they do not like the GOP proposed bill.

The second roadblock to resolution is Speaker McCarthy.  He has the power to call up bills for a vote – or not.  Under modern traditions of dysfunction, Speakers do not call for a vote until they have all the votes on their side locked in. If McCarthy puts the CR up for a vote, it would be up to the Democrats to either provide votes or be shown as the real culprits behind a shutdown.

McCarthy has a unique problem.  If he were to negotiate with Democrats, that handful of Republican holdouts would have the power to put his speakership on the line – perhaps even oust him.  As a profile in courage, he should tell the holdouts to fall in line, or he WILL seek Democrat votes.  And that is exactly what he should do.

McCarthy does not have all the votes needed to advance a GOP-only measure.  Ergo … he does not call for a vote – and the Democrats watch from the gallery.  That means gridlock – and that means shutdown.

Even if McCarthy gets all the votes from his caucus to pass a purely Republican Budget in the House, it is likely to fail in the senate.  That also means gridlock and shutdown.  In short it is the Democrats and McCarthy that are enabling that handful of holdouts to control the process.

If Democrats are to be involved, they want to be in on the debate.  That means the process has to be bipartisan – which now it is not.  House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries could go to McCarthy and say, “put more spending in the bill and I will give you all the votes you need.”   Spending is the great divide between Democrats and Republicans – especially those few holdouts refusing to vote for a CR that does not cut spending.

In terms of the big picture, the handful of so-called nutcases are not wrong.  Federal spending is dangerously out of control – and has been for a long time.  Almost half of all federal spending (40%) is covered by borrowing.

Every time we come up to one of these deadlines, the big spenders push for a quick and temporary resolution with a promise that afterward there will be serious efforts to cut the federal budget.   But … that never happens – and the reckless spending goes on and on … and on.

Those considered the nutcases – with some justification – are arguably the most fiscally responsible members of Congress.  They want to get uncontrolled spending and borrowing reined in.  They are taking the long-term view.  McCarthy, most of the Republican caucus and all Democrats are following the business-as-usual approach.

You can criticize their strategies and modus operandi of the holdouts, but at the bottom line, they are nutcases who are not entirely crazy.

So, there ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. Mike f

    Larry, It would really be refreshing if you looked at a situation objectively, instead of always trying to shift the blame to the democrats. I am not holding my breath waiting for that to happen though. You left out one vital piece in your discourse of the current budget negotiations-democrats already negotiated with McCarthy regarding reductions in spending at the time of the debt ceiling fiasco several months ago, and they (attempting to negotiate in good faith) agreed to some reductions in the FY 24 budget to get an agreement on the debt ceiling. Now you think they should renegotiate that deal? No, they should not. I realize that after the age of trump an agreement means nothing to republicans (you do recall him reneging on two signed treaties?), but it is pretty appalling that one of our political parties believes a negotiated agreement is meaningless. As for your concern about the national debt-please spare us your crocodile tears. Republicans only pay attention to the debt when we have a democrat in the WH. If republicans really wanted to fix the debt problem-it is a relatively easy fix, and ons democrats will agree to. Just roll back some of the ineffective 2017 tax cuts-the ones that raised the deficit each year during the Trump regime and did nothing to promote GDP growth. Enough with the spending cuts-we have been running on empty for over 20 years now…

    • BWH

      The two “treaties” cancelled were two treaties the Obama admin signed without input from Congress. They eeed disasters for the US, as was most of what Obama did. The small outspoken group is correct in their ideas but lacking in their method of carrying out the ideas. And Biden has continued to propose and put in place programs to spend more money without going through Congress. He has thumbed his nose at the desire to cut spending. He simply wants more power.

    • Tom

      Very good points Mike f. I was wondering why all of the problems when the Dems agreed to cuts, I think 1% per year, in the debt ceiling negotiations. And I agree, GOP only focuses on debt when there is a Dem in the WH. Trump is responsible for 25% of the debt so good point on the tax cuts which as an independent/unaffiliated voter I am in total agreement to roll back. Dems have spent less than the GOPs for several years now according to one of their rising stars named Nikki Haley.

  2. frank stetson

    Yes, they are nutcases.

    In reading up on this, this….. let’s call it a process, I noted that the Constitution does not stipulate a process, just who owns it. You gotta love those founders. Great system for freedom and liberty, but boy, they really wanted to make getting things done very difficult. They really did not one entity to rule, but at the same time allow an entity or small group to clux up the works. If we don’t work together to come to common ground, it is too easy to clog up the works as is happening now. I think the “process” is a combination of statutes, regulations and perhaps – history? And therein lies the rub. It’s a process without a conclusion, a budget process that does not necessarily produce a budget without penalty to the participants.

    Over the past 50 years, we have only had 4 budgets. We have had 21 shutdowns, three in this decade so still not in record territory today. That’s some process. However, as Horist indicates, there are 12 sub-total budgets, appropriations bills that cover specific areas of the government, and usually 4 or more of these are passed on time. And then the CR’s and Omnibus bills come into play. CRs are really budgets, but either flatlining the current or the current plus a mark-up. Omnibus bills are like a cattle herd where they roll the up-to-12 appropriations bills into one so it’s hard to pick off the troublesome budget (or cow). Strange process, especially since there are no metrics for success, no penalties to the managers for missing. It’s a mess as Horist agrees. A dismal failure.

    I am not so sure I totally agree with the front end of the Horist process description. I thought the departments submitted to the President, the President submits to the House, not that it matters. To the House, it’s just guidelines as to what is a guarantee the President will sign since he has the last pen and can veto. There’s also dates for all of the things.

    Beyond that, right with ya on this one Horist.

    Until you get to your normal end game: it is the Democrats fault. Come on man, you know that’s a bunch of malarky. These guys are taunting cuts to essential services that no Democrat will sign off on, much less without even a negotiation.

    First, it’s the Republican rules that were defeated by Republicans. Their own rules by their own team.

    It’s the Republican votes that are blocking the bills. There is even a bipartisan stop gap CR that both sides will vote for to extend funding until November.

    Horist is asking Democrats to sign off on a Republican bill without any input. Won’t matter if they read it. Worse yet, he is asking Democrats to do something that McCarthy himself does not what them to do. I am sorry Mr. Horist, but our shining armor and white stallion are not that shiny bright.

    No Larry, we know who owns the shutdown and it’s only a handful of Republicans in the House. And it’s the Republican speaker that cannot control his own House. And it’s the Republican speaker that does not want Democrat support.

    Beyond that, I heartily agree, the process is a clusterfrook. We are spending too much; deficits and debt are too high. But I disagree that anything these publicity-hounds and talk-show wannabees are doing will fix anything. None of them are highlighting the Horist theory, it’s all about them and their individual needs. It is their way or the highway. I am sorry, but IMO they are doing the wrong thing in the wrong way and that’s double-trouble. Fire the budget hostage takers at the next election.

    • Tom

      Yup I agree with you on this one, GOP owns this shutdown no matter how anyone spins it. I agree, McCarthy is weak and cannot control his own party. And yes, Americans need to make smarter choices at the polls! What ever happened to those debt ceiling negotiations where Dems did negotiate? Seems like GOP is now coming back for some more cuts. Maybe I am wrong on this one. Lets just approve last years budget minus 5% and make everyone live with it. And lets take away those corporate Trump tax breaks that did nothing for the American people but sink them further in debt. And no more Omnibus packages. Lets put metrics and penalties into the process. And lets get inflation under control so our debt payments are not as big.

    • spaceman spiff

      Let me toss in what I know about late FY spending. I’m now retired from a Federal Civil Service job in which I designed construction and repair projects at an Air Force base in SW Oklahoma. Each ending Fiscal Year would be a real challenge because we tended to hold on to End of Year (EOY) funds until that time. We at our Base had ways of pre-determining specific costs for award of construction projects already negotiated and waiting for funding at EOY. I always took the road of being ready for it with as many “shovel-ready” projects as possible. In this way, when other bases would blow their design deadlines, we’d be there with the largest basket possible to catch what we called “fallout money” from other bases. It worked out for our place extremely well in that we almost always got considerably more than our “fair share” of funds because we believed in being ready. In this way we got a lot of GOOD work done at our base for things we badly needed done, while others failed to change with the times and be as ready as we always were. In the worst year we had at EOY, I managed to snag over $300K in fallout money for a badly needed repair at our airfield. Made my day.
      But, the reason the EOY money dump happens is that the funds are referred to as “appropriated” and means that a budget is for operating your agency or base and it’s up to you how the funds are actually spent. There are normal things like utilities (electric, water, gas, sewage disposal, etc.) and abnormal things like emergency repairs to a water main or a collapsed pavement on the airfield. Unexpected things that happen. The reason funding is hoarded is JUST IN CASE something like an emergency happens, you’re ready for it. You spend that year-end money because if you don’t, you lose it. We never had a problem finding something useful and needed to spend the money on. We had lots of infrastructure that was aging and needed some improvement and did a nice job of fixing a lot of things that needed to be fixed.
      Hope that goes toward explaining how it’s done. If they would change things and let folks carry over unused funds, it would likely help a bit as long as the agency could tell why they didn’t use all the money they were allocated.

  3. JoeyP

    Well . . . if it will CONTRL their HORRIBLE spending habits – So BE it. break UP that omnibus bill into smaller manageable “chunks” and keep a WATCHFUL eye on their DUMPING process and tell these departments to STOP it or face CONSEQUENCES.

  4. Darren

    Show the American people exactly what the Democrats want and why the hold outs are holding out!
    You know, actually report the NEWS!

  5. Tom

    Larry, thanks for the process summary, good show. I agree that it is complicated and I agree with Frank’s comments on the process. As an independent/unaffiliated voter, whom according to you only has anecdotal thoughts, I believe the GOP squarely owns this one! It is their shutdown. It is the GOP that cannot reign in their party members. It is the GOP that is in the majority and has the obligation to promote bipartisan negotiating. McCarthy in my opinion is not showing leadership – he is showing that he likes his speaker gavel much more than the American people who will be hurt.

    I have an idea, just approve last years budget (or what would have been the budget) and subtract 5% across the board from all departments. And lets do that for the next three to five years. And lets do what Mike f says and cancel those Trump tax cuts to corporations and wealthy. And lets consider doing a little line item vetoing! And as Frank says, lets put some metrics and penalties into the process.

    I do not think those nut cases are heroes. Yes they may have a point but if they are sincere, lets stop their pay and perks. American people I think have a bigger point that they want a functioning well run government.