House Deems and Ignores?

Washington is a funny place.  Yesterday, House Republicans “deemed” the House-passed Ryan Budget to be the official budget of the House.  The Rules Committee released a statement explaining the procedural maneuver:

Last month the House voted to approve a responsible budget blueprint that would reduce our deficit, spur economic growth, and reform critical government programs.  In a stark contrast, the Senate has not acted on a budget in over 1,080 days.  The Rules of the House and the enforcement mechanisms in the Budget Act rely on the numbers in a budget agreed to by both House and Senate to ensure that Congress doesn’t overspend. When the Senate refuses to act, the House must take steps to ensure that it can responsibly proceed with the appropriations and budget process.  This is accomplished through the use of budget enforcement language in a rule, commonly called a “deemer” because it “deems” the House budget levels in place until there’s a joint agreement between the House and Senate.

Essentially, absent Senate action, deeming is the only way to have an enforcement mechanism (think budget points of order) available to the lawmakers who do not want Congress to “overspend.”  That is a logical explanation, and one based upon everyone’s stated desire to rein in spending.

Unfortunately, later that day, the Rules Committee also unveiled a structured rule to guide consideration of the 90-day highway and transit extension (H.R.4348).  The rule includes a provision that “Waives all points of order against provisions in the bill.”  In English, this means they are waiving the parameters set by their own budget.

This budget waiver is necessary because the 90-day extension exceeds the revenues coming into the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) without providing a mechanism to pay for the additional spending, as required under the recently “deemed” budget.  If that continues, the HTF will be exhausted, necessitating yet another bailout.

Perhaps most cynically – and disheartening for conservatives – earlier this year the House Rules Committee refused to allow an amendment offered by Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA) that would turn transportation authority back to the states because the Committee decided it had a “cost” to the federal government.

As with most things, this embarrassing episode was entirely self-inflicted and completely avoidable.  House Republicans should go back and re-read  Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica’s (R-FL) letter to the Chamber of Commerce last summer:

Our years of excessive deficit spending are at an end, and responsible Congressional leaders must make difficult decisions about achieving real and tangible priorities. … A continuation of deficit spending and General Fund transfers will destroy the dedicated, user fee-based Trust Fund.

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