Funding battles reveal the need for statesmanship
Russell Vought | Courage is called for, not fear
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Every year, typically during the fall and winter, events in Washington, D.C. provide the rest of the country a window into our capital’s dysfunction. This window results from the annual consideration of legislation that is deemed “must pass” by the political class as we approach the expiration of the current fiscal year. That occasion is once again upon us as Congress returns this week to consider funding legislation. However, the annual routine should not disguise the magnitude of the moment.
For those concerned with the direction of the country, the spending process is an extraordinary opportunity to redirect our society from liberalism. Unfortunately, it will likely produce only partisan drama and little in terms of results.
The Congressional spending process is broken. Each year Congress ignores the law that requires it to pass a budget, routinely delays consideration of twelve individual spending bills running the gamut of federal activities, and then rushes to pass either one mammoth package, totaling nearly $1.3 trillion, or an extension of current levels with a “continuing resolution.” Predictably, this collapses congressional oversight and the massive administrative state continues to grow without restraint.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to begin consideration of just such a continuing resolution this week, but this year ought to be different. Because of the legislative filibuster, Senate Republicans have the power to block the annual spending bills until their priorities are addressed. A small sampling of those priorities should be the restoration of recently weakened religious liberty protections for those administering social services, the end of funding for Planned Parenthood, the starvation of the FBI’s efforts to liken participation in the political process with domestic terrorism, and the elimination of Critical Race Theory training in the federal government. Pick almost any area of objection to how the Biden Administration is governing, and there is a corresponding solution at the ready by utilizing Congress’ power of the purse.
Why, then, has it not been used? The simple answer is that elected Republicans live in perpetual fear of being blamed for government shutdowns and therefore avoid picking fights on the issues. Many of these issues are cultural issues that matter most to everyday voters and which elected Republicans campaigned on doing something about, but they know that Democrats will vigorously oppose. Never mind that funding for most of the critical functions of government is on auto-pilot, so charges of “shutting down the government” is always overblown and rarely politically painful. The military will still be at its post, and Social Security checks will still be sent. Republicans instead tend to “manage” the fight to occur somewhere else where it is easier to compromise on—perhaps the amount or length of the spending—so that their base can never wonder whether they fought hard or not. Inevitably, since the legislative confrontation is devoid of any connectedness to the direct concerns of the American people, it devolves into your average partisan fight with observers concerned only with which political team wins or loses.
All Americans, and Christians in particular, should reject this status quo and work instead towards a legislative process that allows for the debate of important issues and the opportunity for checks against the profligate spending and progressive policies of the Biden Administration. That is not what exists today, because of an over-politicization of our constitutional framework. The intended system of checks and balances is just never used because of the fear of political risk. Elections are important, and elected officials would be foolish to ignore them. They are the basis for a representative government. But the preoccupation with minimizing political risk and maximizing stability at all costs by legislative leaders—government by political cartel—is something to be rejected by all Christians. It robs us of our opportunity and responsibility to favorably impact the laws of this county based on a Biblical worldview, cripples our leaders elected on bold platforms to achieve meaningful results, and furthers the ossification of our two current political parties by preventing robust public policy debates that might attract new voters.
Statesmanship is required now like never before, not the stewardship of political cartels that conspire to promote political stability. Congress has an opportunity to reach for it this week by rejecting any funding bill that does not begin to reverse the excesses of the Biden Administration. John Quincy Adams was known for saying that, “Duty is ours. Results are God’s.” From his lips, to our current leaders’ ears.
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