Steve A. Stone
Dear Friends and Patriots,
Do you want a little bit of insider info on how our Congress is not working for us? The text below was originally sent out as an 'X' post (yeah, that's a Tweet). It's been adapted into article format and was reported yesterday in The Blaze. Pay attention. In the last paragraph of Sen. Lee’s dissertation, he requests that people pass it on. That’s what I’m doing, in my usual way. I can’t pass it without comment. That would make me something of a toady and a shill. Passing it without a critique – no one should do that.
The post is not as comprehensive as you may think, and it appears somewhat aimed at absolving all but a few members of Congress from blame. I might agree, except for one consideration.
I like that Sen. Lee admits to the collusion on high that we all suspect, but can’t prove. I even like his acknowledgement that many out here among the real folks have been referring to The UniParty – the go-along, get-along Congress that keeps telling us, “Compromise isn’t a bad thing.” We might understand and agree if we didn’t constantly see our most fundamental principles ground up with all the offal that goes into the sausage they call legislation. Most people I deal with on a regular basis agree that the Republicans have compromised most of the best parts of our country in the name of making a deal. They’ve all but given away the store and have almost completely ignored the will of their party, as expressed in the Republican Party Platform. I won’t even mention the will of the people. Who cares about us?
Sen. Lee refers to "rank and file Republicans in both chambers." What does that say to you? It essentially acknowledges the leadership of both the House and Senate consider most members of those bodies to be little but chair warmers and partisan voters. ‘Rank and file’ is a term most often used when union leadership refers to membership. It’s analogous to when Marxists talk of “the masses,” or when literary snobs allude to “the great unwashed.” Perhaps that's apropos. Perhaps they're more like union members than we ever might have thought. When you consider how they tend to act, the parallels are obvious. Those ‘rank and file’ members are the ones we hardly ever hear from. They tell their constituents they're too busy with the various chores of governance that they don't want to waste time acting out in front of media cameras, issuing public statements, or otherwise making a big show of themselves. Those are things “leadership are supposed to do, and those others among them who have a childish need for attention.” The 'rank and file' are those faceless, almost nameless members we see on camera once in a while, lined up in back of one of the media hogs. They're the people we see sitting more than three chairs away from committee and subcommittee chairmen.
I acknowledge the general truths Sen. Lee reveals. But he's really holding out on us. He seems to imply the leadership of both House and Senate are secretly and deeply involved in the process of creating funding bills. That's a fiction. Those bills are team worked products of staffs and special interest lobbyists. The leaders don't have time to pay that much attention until just before the bills are ready to roll out. Their attention at that time might (might) only be to ensure the bill includes everything on their master checklists of “wants” and “must-haves.” The leaders only control one thing – the timeline.
Think back to the time when “Miss Nancy P.” famously said, “We have to pass it before we can find out what’s in it.” Yeah, that was a statement of rare truth. It’s just as true today.
The central question I ask is – Why Don't We Hear From Those Rank And File Members Every Time This Abominable Process Is In Play? Why Aren't They Shrieking? I reason – if I'm shrieking, the person who represents me should be shrieking right along.
Making statements like I just did will naturally provoke some to wonder just what all those elected members are doing every day, if not bending over their desks for hours at a time, crafting or dissecting legislation. That’s not something I wish to explore here. There are dozens of answers, and most will absolutely amaze you. But, now is not the time.
Pay attention to the comments regarding "Regular Order." I find it interesting that such a term even exists. After all, "Regular Order" is so rarely followed anymore it surely doesn't merit that name. Face it – Congress makes its own rules. If they don't like what they're doing today they can just change a rule, then issue a story line regarding their rationale. Who are we to question? Who are we to complain? Most days I think “Regular Order” is a synonym for “Winging It!”
Another fictional term, since that’s what I’m really discussing – budget. I’m not sure, but I believe the Constitution requires Congress to do one of those every year. I’m almost convinced no one in Congress understands the word. If they did, would we be $32T in debt, with a $1.7T annual deficit. Maybe they just use a different dictionary than the one I do. Think about that.
Are my comments too harsh? Am I just too cynical or too negative? Trust me on this – I’m holding back.
Rank and file. Think of it. That term is applied to the popularly elected members of Congress. They’re out elected representatives – our leaders. If they're "rank and file" what does that make us?
Commentary: How ‘the Firm’ pushes bad spending bills — and what we can do about it
Mike Lee September 18, 2023
Congress once again fights over funding bills to avert a government shutdown, and Americans are once again treated to the corporate media dutifully reciting talking points of both Democrat and Republican appropriators. Fiscal conservatives — and millions of Americans concerned with our skyrocketing national debt and wasteful spending — are predictably sidelined and ignored.
So here is the real story.
The “law firm” of Schumer, McConnell, McCarthy, and Jeffries (aka “the Firm”) has learned that members of Congress (and voters) don’t like “omnibus” spending bills — that is, legislative proposals that fund all of the functions of the federal government in a single consolidated bill.
This presents a challenge for the Firm, which has for years used omnibus spending bills to manipulate the legislative process. Before we address the Firm’s latest challenge and its response, let’s first review a few of the basic dynamics at play.
An omnibus spending bill is typically written by the Firm in secret, with assistance from a few “appropriators” (members of the House and Senate spending or “appropriations” committees), hand-picked by the Firm. Once written, an omnibus will first be seen by the public — and even by nearly every member of Congress — only days or hours before a scheduled shutdown.
The timing and sequence of a typical omnibus, carefully orchestrated by the Firm, all but ensure that it will pass without substantive changes once it becomes public and that very few elected federal lawmakers will have meaningful input into this highly secretive process. At the same time, the fast (almost mindless) flurry of legislative action at the end of this legislative charade gives it the false appearance of democratic legitimacy.
Sometimes that appearance is enhanced by the Firm deciding to let members vote on a small handful of amendments, but the Firm persuades enough members into opposing amendments that make substantial changes to the original, sacred text.
What’s stunning here is that loyalties within the Firm seem to run deeper than those within each party. In light of that phenomenon, some observers have described the force uniting support for the Firm’s omnibus bills as “the Uniparty.” While rank-and-file members of both parties are adversely affected by the Firm’s manipulative tactics, there is far more resentment toward the Firm among Republicans, who see two constants in the Firm’s impact: (1) government spending inexorably grows, and (2) the spending bills advanced by the Firm tend to unite Democrats while sharply dividing Republicans, producing a net gain for Democrats.
While exceptions can occasionally be found, Republican appropriators are notorious for wanting to spend far more than they want to advance Republican policy priorities, deeply endearing them to the Firm.
Thus, although voters in every state elect people to Congress to represent them in all federal legislative endeavors, the Firm can (and often does) render their individual involvement in the spending process far less meaningful than it should be.
This sort of thing makes the Firm far more powerful, with more power flowing to the Firm every time this cycle is completed. It’s great for the Firm and the lobbyists and special interests able to capture its attention (through home-state connections, political donations, or otherwise).
But this situation is terrible for the American people, who are stuck with the horrible consequences of this shameful dance, including rampant inflation and our $33 trillion national debt.
In a sense, the problem is not necessarily the omnibus itself. In theory, Congress could pass a comprehensive spending bill in a way that didn’t exclude most of its members — and most Americans — from the process of drafting, debating, amending, and passing that bill.
Thus, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the omnibus itself; the true evil lies in the process by which the omnibus is secretly drafted, hastily debated, and then passed under extortion by the Firm.
Many Americans have, over time, developed a basic understanding of omnibus spending bills — at least enough to be suspicious of them. Having heard enough complaints from their constituents, many members of Congress have understandably begun expressing reluctance toward passing any omnibus.
The Firm is aware of that growing reluctance, which it recognizes as a serious threat, given how well the omnibus has served to make the Firm more powerful at the expense of the American people. Clearly alarmed by that threat, some members of the Firm have started to say things like “we will not support an omnibus.”
By saying that, they make themselves sound heroic, responsive to voters and rank-and-file members, and committed to serious reform of the spending process.
That illusion disappears when, on closer inspection, it becomes evident that the Firm’s new strategy is to promise to pass two or three smaller omnibus measures (sometimes called “minibus” bills) by essentially the same rigged process long associated with the omnibus. These are bite-sized pieces of the same corrupt package.
Those leery of the Firm’s manipulation tactics understand 1) the absence of a single omnibus bill and the use of two or more “minibus” bills instead of a single omnibus do not mean the process will be fair or materially different from that associated with an omnibus, and 2) it’s likely that Congress will find itself stuck with a single omnibus, in spite of the Firm’s recent insistence to the contrary.
Given that Republicans currently hold the majority in the House of Representatives, rank-and-file Republicans in both chambers generally believe that the Senate should address spending bills only after they have been passed by the Republican-controlled House, as that approach is more likely to protect Republican priorities.
Congress is supposed to pass 12 spending bills each year, each associated with different functions of the federal government. So far this year, the House has passed only one spending bill — the one known by the abbreviation “MilConVA,” which contains funding for military construction and Veterans Affairs.
The Senate last week moved to proceed to the House-passed MilConVA appropriations bill.
Not content to let the Senate deal with only one spending bill at a time, the Firm decided to create a minibus out of the MilConVA bill by adding two additional bills drafted by the Democrat-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee — specifically those containing funding for 1) agriculture, and 2) transportation, housing, and urban development.
Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate found this move alarming, as it would strengthen the Firm at the expense of Republican priorities and contribute to the eventual likelihood of an end-of-year omnibus geared primarily toward advancing Democratic priorities.
But the Firm faced a hurdle: combining the three bills together in the Senate would require the consent of every senator.
While many Senate Republicans harbored these concerns, most identified conditions that, if satisfied, would persuade them to consent. Most of the conditions involved some combination of technical and procedural assurances pertaining to how the combined bill would be considered and an agreement to vote on specific proposed amendments advancing Republican priorities.
One Republican senator in particular, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, remained concerned that any agreement would benefit the Firm far more than it would advance Republican priorities. On that basis, he objected, halting the process.
The Firm wasn’t happy. Making its displeasure known, the Firm and its cheerleaders tried to blame Senator Johnson for the Senate’s inability to restore what’s known as “regular order,” that is, the process by which each of the 12 appropriations bills is supposed to advance independently, in a way that honors each member’s procedural rights by allowing an “open amendment process.”
Here’s the irony: what the Firm was proposing was not “regular order.” Far from it. It was a slightly different flavor of the Firm’s tried-and-true manipulation formula.
Because Senator Johnson courageously objected shortly after the Senate voted to proceed to the House-passed MilConVA bill, the Senate may now operate under “regular order” consideration of that bill. We are now unencumbered by the Firm’s manipulative plan to subject the Senate to an unending series of omnibus (or omnibus-like) bills that the Firm can ram through both chambers with minimal interference from rank-and-file members.
Senator Johnson deserves credit for standing on principle and should be thanked for his dedication.
If the entire mess I have just described sounds complex, confusing, and even insidiously opposed to the principles of transparency and democracy, don’t worry: that’s the entire point. It is “what we do in the shadows” in Washington, just draining tax dollars instead of blood from hapless victims.
Together, we can fix this process, which has created so many problems for the American people. But to do that, we have to push back against the Firm.
If this message resonates with you, please retweet and otherwise share it with anyone who might listen, and ask your members of Congress to stand up to the Firm.
Mike Lee is a Republican U.S. Senator from Utah.© Steve A. Stone
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.