House GOP abandons pledge to force agency-by-agency budgeting

Last December, I wrote hopefully about a pledge made by Speaker John Boehner on reforming the budget process in the House after winning control in the midterms.  Boehner said he would end the use of collating budgets into a dozen aggregated bills, headed by so-called “cardinals” in the lower chamber and promulgated by, er, “professional appropriators.”  Instead, the new Republican majority would write spending bills agency by agency, forcing each to justify their spending and making specific cuts in outlays more likely.

Five months later, that reform has apparently been abandoned, at least for now:

House Republicans have abandoned a campaign proposal by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to draft spending bills by agency instead of lumping Cabinet departments together in bulky appropriations measures.

Boehner issued the plan in a speech on congressional reform last September, but the Appropriations Committee says it received no instructions from the leadership to follow through with it.

As a result, the committee is plowing ahead with the traditional 12 large appropriations bills, confirmed in a schedule that the panel’s chairman, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), announced Wednesday afternoon.

Republicans say they will still provide some reform to the process by allowing open amendments for each of the 12 bills.  Jack Kingston, chair of the Agriculture subcommittee of Appropriations, also says that the delay over the FY2011 budget ate up the time needed to process the budget on an agency-by-agency basis, a position that one group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, accepted, according to The Hill.  However, Mike Simpson (R-ID) told The Hill that such a reform wouldn’t work anyway:

Another Appropriations cardinal, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Wyo.), said drafting separate bills for each agency “decreases the flexibility” for lawmakers because it would make it harder for members to shift funds between departments during an open amendment process on the floor.

“It would create havoc on the floor and it would take a lot more floor time,” Simpson said. “I can’t see the advantage.”

I don’t find it terribly surprising that one of the 12 “cardinals” would object to a more specific budgeting process.  The move would limit the ability to move funding around, as Simpson says, but that power would belong to Simpson himself, and to what purpose?  If the House properly budgets each agency, then there should be no need to “shift funds” at all.  If one agency has too much money, let’s cut it rather than find other places to spend money we don’t have.  That is, in fact, the specific reason this reform made sense.

TCS says we should give the GOP a Mulligan on this pledge for FY2012 because of the drawn-out battle over FY2011, and they may be right.  When it comes to the FY2013 budget, we’ll be watching again to see whether House Republicans take budgetary process reform seriously.

Update: Mike Simpson represents a CD in Idaho, not the lone seat from Wyoming.  The Hill’s report was the source of the error, for which I apologize.  Thanks to reader Connie P from, naturally, Wyoming!