by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Congressional Republicans could, for example, break up the budget — or at least the portion of the budget that is subject to yearly congressional funding decisions — into many smaller pieces. Congress currently divides the budget into twelve large bills, with each subcommittee of the House and Senate appropriations committees responsible for one. It could, however, fund the different departments of the federal government in dozens of smaller bills, and it should.
Fragmenting the budget would run counter to a theory that many congressional conservatives have implicitly accepted in recent years. They assumed that tying together as many items in the budget as possible would give them leverage over a liberal president. Congress could pass a bill to fund the government but attach a provision denying all money to Obamacare, and President Obama would have to relent to keep the government running. Or Congress could pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security but deny funds for Obama’s immigration order, and he would have to relent to keep the department running.
One lesson of these fights is that this theory is wrong: Tying all of this spending together doesn’t increase congressional conservatives’ control over any of it. It reduces their control. During the immigration fight, the Obama administration’s most frequently made argument, which suggests it was also its most effective argument, was that holding up the Department of Homeland Security’s budget endangered the war on terrorism.
Republicans would have been better off if they had been able to advance two bills: one funding the department except for the immigration services, and the other funding the immigration services but prohibiting them from implementing the disputed Obama orders.