Congress passed another continuing resolution yesterday that will keep the government in operation for another two weeks, allowing the White House to keep negotiating for a budget plan while Democrats remain in charge in the House. That, however, is really a secondary story. Politico reports on a quiet development that could throw a wrench into the works even with Democrats in charge — and which would, if implemented, severely distort the checks and balances on power in Washington (emphasis mine):
A two-week stopgap spending bill cleared Congress Thursday night, averting a threatened shutdown Friday and buying time for the White House to try to salvage some year-end agreement after the collapse of the budget process.
The action came as the administration sent to the Capitol more than 50 funding adjustments it wants considered as part of what would be a stripped-down appropriations package for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
Many agencies would be left frozen at their current spending levels, but the documents indicate the White House is seeking more than $11.4 billion in new spending above 2010, chiefly for foreign aid and defense accounts as well as education initiatives and housing assistance for low-income tenants. The administration also wants to a remarkably open-ended authority to transfer funds between accounts — a power that is sure to be resisted by the Appropriations Committee leadership.
This is what’s known as “burying the lead” in journalism. A Republican House will have the “power of the purse” to put an end to executive branch overreach — for instance, the efforts at the EPA to create carbon caps outside of Congressional authorization, the FCC’s attempts to regulate the Internet, and so on. That power is a key part of the checks and balances in federal government, forcing agencies to account for themselves and their behavior to Congress, and putting limits on executive authority to issue orders for regulation without Congressional approval.
Politico doesn’t discuss the breadth of the “remarkably open-ended authority” Barack Obama wants to transfer funds between accounts, but I doubt that the White House interest in winning that power at this precise moment in time is coincidental. They know that Republicans plan on using the power of the purse to keep the Obama administration from abusing its power and making end-runs around the legislature. It all but demands a blank check from Congress as a budget plan and ends their ability to direct funding as it sees fit. It’s a carte blanche for runaway executive power.
Senate Republicans must pledge to filibuster any budget with that kind of authority built into it. In fact, every member of Congress should protest this demand to surrender the Constitutional prerogative of budgeting and the check on power it represents. Otherwise, they will consign the people’s branch to a mere rubber stamp for executive whims.