During the last week of October, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. The bill abandoned conservative fiscal policy, choosing instead to suspend our nation’s debt limit until March 2017 (an estimated $1.5 trillion hike) and increase total federal spending by at least $111 billion over the next three years, blowing through the caps established by the Budget Control Act.
With this new spending framework established by the Bipartisan Budget Act, Congress will attempt to pass appropriations legislation to allocate these spending increases by December 11th. Unfortunately, congressional leadership is attempting to bundle 12 pieces of appropriations legislation together into one omnibus spending bill. Conservatives stand opposed to such a package. In addition to using the leverage of the appropriations process to restrain the executive and attain key conservative policy objectives (including provisions defunding Planned Parenthood and executive amnesty), the bill should only appropriate spending within the original budget cap levels.
Spend Within Budget Caps: The framework established by the Bipartisan Budget Act allows for an additional $111 billion is spending. But this framework passed with unified Democratic support, and a minority of Republicans. There is a reason that Congress is under a new leadership team, and appropriations legislation does not need to allocate spending at this heightened level. There is still an opportunity for Congress to exercise restraint and fiscal responsibilities, and only allocating spending at the levels authorized by the original budget caps. Such a policy would communicate to the American people that Congress intends to pursue responsible spending practices.
Defund Planned Parenthood: In July 2015, the Center for Medical Progress began releasing a series of undercover videos documenting Planned Parenthood executives haggling over fetal body parts, as well as describing the use of the illegal partial-birth abortion procedure to secure intact organs. These atrocities are currently funded by the government of the United States, which supplied Planned Parenthood with 41% of its total revenue last year ($528 million). This has led Planned Parenthood to become the largest abortion provider in the country, performing over 327,000 abortions last year (1 of every 3 abortions performed in the United States). This all occurred while federal law prevents the use of federal dollars in performing abortions – a provision circumvented by Planned Parenthood’s creative accounting and the fungibility of federal dollars.
A legislative rider defunding Planned Parenthood by name is necessary to effectively shut off federal funds to the organization, as it would both remove Title X funding and prohibit Medicaid funds from being awarded under the “choose your own provider” provision. 151 Republicans voted against a two month continuing resolution that funded Planned Parenthood. Those members need to be encouraged to maintain their positions against a spending bill that funds Planned Parenthood in December.
Defund Executive Amnesty: The clearest example of the president’s overstep of his executive powers through the illegal use of executive orders can be found in his executive amnesty program. It is the responsibility of members of Congress to craft laws governing United States immigration policy, and the role of the executive to implement those laws. By unilaterally implementing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, and by widely expanding the program in 2014 (DAPA), the president ignored the constitutional separation of powers and took the legislative powers of Congress upon himself.
Twenty-six states filed suit, claiming an abuse of executive power, and the Fifth Circuit upheld an injunction against the program earlier this year. But a leaked memo indicates that the administration is planning on circumventing the court’s injunction and issuing several hundred thousand additional worker visas. In light of this administration’s repeated abuses of executive power, the bill should contain a provision defunding the executive amnesty program.
Refugee Resettlement: The United States currently maintains the most generous refugee program in the world. But the President has proposed expanding this program by increasing the number of refugees to 45,000 by the end of 2016. This influx of refugees presents a series of national security concerns, which the current administration has been negligent in addressing. Due to significant linguistic and cultural differences, lack of documentation, and the opacity of refugees concerning motivations, it is incredibly difficult to effectively screen refugees. This problem is compounded by widespread fraud and a significant risk of refugees being targeted for recruitment by terror groups while present in their country of resettlement. The Obama administration has consistently demonstrated its unwillingness to establish systems for effectively screening refugees, with grave implications on national security.
Congress should push for a thorough and transparent vetting process, and should deny funding to the president’s program until such a process is established. The December 11th appropriations deadline provides an opportunity for Congress to use a legislative rider defunding the president’s expansion, after which Congress may work with security experts to pass legislation establishing a thorough screening process, and a mechanism for lawmakers to affirm the administration is implementing the new process correctly.
Conclusion: The power of the purse is a constitutionally-established power of Congress, and appropriations legislation provides the clearest opportunity for its use. These are not the only conservative policies that can be pursued during the appropriations process, but they are critical ones. Current members of Congress were elected with a clear mandate to pursue conservative policies and spending reforms, and should not abandon the fight on key points of leverage.