Of Congress and Appropriations

 

Photo by Jomar on Unsplash

 

Why is Congress not legislating?  Congress is the national legislature.  The Constitution vests Congress with exclusive legislative rights.  Then why will the Members of Congress not legislate?

Among the exclusive legislative jobs for Congress is to appropriate funds for the operations of government.  This is a regular, annual task.  This must be well understood:  for Congress to fail to fund the operations of the federal government is a dereliction of duty of the highest order.  Nothing prevents the Members from doing that duty, and no one else can do it.

The President cannot legislate, least of all appropriate.  That limitation is firmly placed as a check on executive power.  The President may not write a single word of legislation, he may not appropriate one penny.  If the agencies of government are not funded, it is because Congress has failed to fund them.  No one else can fund them, and no one else can fail to fund them.  Currently, Congress has not done its job for much of the federal government, and the Members of Congress have no excuse, no justification for the failure.

The President can make recommendations to Congress, he can ask for appropriations.  Congress can heed or disregard such recommendations and requests entirely at its discretion.  They have no effect except as Congress chooses.

Some might say, but what about the President’s veto?  Can he not refuse to sign an appropriation, and send the bill back to Congress?  Indeed he can.  He may send it back, but he cannot change it, he cannot add or remove a single word.  Congress can decide whether to change the legislation, do nothing, or vote to override the veto.  Those decisions are entirely in the hands of the legislators.

It is no excuse for legislators to say that they cannot find sufficient agreement whether to override a veto or even to pass a law.  Whose fault is that?  True representative legislatures (not the rubber stamps of communist dictatorships) have always had the difficult job of dealing with disagreement.  That is why we have legislatures with numerous members.  It is expected that there will be varying points of view.  The legislators’ responsibility is to resolve these differences sufficient to pass necessary laws.

Appropriations for government operations are necessary laws.  They are also among the most malleable of questions.  When the consideration is money for government projects, there is a compromise to be found.  We will not pass anything is not an acceptable option.  It is legislative failure.

Presidents may say that they will veto a bill that does not meet certain standards.  That is a President’s prerogative, but the Constitution is careful to make it a surmountable obstacle.  The Members of Congress, working through the legislative process, may either find a sufficient majority to pass a law that the President will not veto or a sufficient unity of view that will allow them to override the veto.  Doing nothing until the President changes his view is dereliction.

Presidents have had vetoes overridden.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat, vetoed 635 Acts of Congress passed by strong majorities of fellow Democrats.  Congress overrode several of those.  Ronald Reagan vetoed 78 Acts of Congress, several of which were overridden.

Most often, a significant number of Members will sympathize with the President’s view.  That calls for legislative efforts to find a formula reasonable enough that the President does not reasonably veto it.  That is what the national legislature traditionally does and is expected to do.  That is what this Congress has so far failed to do.  That failure is entirely the fault of the Members of Congress.

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