By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MILLBROOK, Ala. – U.S. Rep. Martha Roby visited Millbrook Wednesday and spoke at a Millbrook’s Kiwanis Club meeting where she updated the group on her work on the Appropriations Committee as the September 30th fiscal year deadline approaches.
Roby said she does not want to have to resort to a continuing resolution, which extends the time period that Congress has to pass their appropriations by extending last year’s fiscal budget just a little longer. However, Roby sees at least one “short-term CR” as likely.
“I expect you will see a short-term CR to keep the government open and give the House and the Henate time to work this out,” Roby said.
“None of us wants a government shutdown, which would be more terrible than dealing with a CR.”
Roby credited Senator Richard Shelby, who currently chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, for revamping the appropriations process in the upper chamber. The Senate has passed seven of the 12 bills before the end of August, which hasn’t happened in 20 years.
Roby would like to see that same momentum in the House.
“I am optimistic, I’ll be glass half full here, that we are on a more responsible path than we have been,” said Roby.
For the last several years, Congress has been unable to enact the 12 different appropriations titles funding the various functions of government and instead resorted to large bills called omnibuses that combine them. These omnibus bills are unpopular because of their unwieldy length, costly price tag, and relatively little oversight.
The Senate has taken the approach of chopping the bills up into more bite-size “minibus” bills that contain two to four appropriations titles at a time. The Senate is set to pass another minibus bill on Thursday, combining the two largest appropriations committees: the Defense sub-committee and the Labor, Health and Human Services (HSS) and Education sub-committee.
This new minibus would fund 60 percent of the entire 2019 appropriations, which is estimated to amount to $1.3 trillion in its entirety.
Funding for the border wall would fall under one of the other three bills the senate still needs to pass, but the lawmakers are hoping to deal with that until after the fiscal year, or September 30th, is over reports The Hill.
Using these minibuses to pass appropriations is not as bad as the overarching omnibus bills that have been used in the past, but Roby still wants to see congress use the actual protocol that the government is meant to use when dealing with how to fund the government.
“We haven’t followed regular protocol really in my time that I’ve been in Congress, where the House passes 12 bills, the Senate passes 12 bills, you conference on those bills and then you get those bills signed into law. That is just not how it’s worked,” said Roby.
“The way we have been operating is not how it is designed to work.”
Roby continued to explain how the limited involvement that goes into negotiating an omnibus bill is ultimately not the best way to fund the government and it’s not in the best interest of the American people.
“Four people are in a room deciding on how the budget should be spent and not one of you elected them,” Roby explained to her constituents. “And they are taking the finer points and negotiating them in a room without the input of the American people and that is clearly not the way it is supposed to work.”
Roby also said how she addressed the problems with using the omnibus bill to pass appropriations when she, along with other Republican lawmakers on the appropriations committee, met with President Trump this year.
“The president was very receptive to all the remarks in the room and we’re all on the same page, at least on that issue of wanting to get back on regular order,” Roby said. “So no more continuing resolutions, no more huge omnibus bills that allow the finer issues to be negotiated by people you didn’t elect.”
Roby told Alabama Daily News that the president has indicated that he will not sign an omnibus bill if he is given one, and GOP lawmakers are nervous after Trump threatened a government shutdown if the border wall does not get funding.
Having a government shutdown this close to the general election wouldn’t be good for Republicans up for reelection. Democrats are already expected to gain seats in November’s midterm elections and Republican not being able to govern effectively would play into their challengers’ hands.
Roby has also experienced some wins when it comes to passing appropriations. Just last month she helped pass H.R. 6157 which provided $674.6 billion in military funding. Alabama’s 2nd District, which Roby represents, is home to both Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery and Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass.
It is clear that Roby will continue to advocate for the correct procedure when passing appropriations, if no other reason than to make sure her district is represented well within those spending bills.
“I think process matters, and it may be dull when you’re in the weeds of it but it is how our government was designed to work,” said Roby. “And I have a responsibility to take the time to explain it to you and why it’s broken and how I think we can fix it.”