By U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-1)
Article I, section 9, clause 7 of the Constitution says that “no money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by law.” That provision of the Constitution outlines one of the most important tools of Congress: the “power of the purse.”
Congress has the exclusive authority to allocate funding for government agencies and programs. That authority is exercised each year through the appropriations process. The House Appropriations Committee divides the funding measures up into twelve different bills based on areas of jurisdiction. The government funding bills must be passed each year by September 30 in order to avoid a government shutdown.
In recent years, Congress has fallen into a bad habit of passing massive omnibus spending bills instead of passing individual appropriations bills. This year, the House is setting out to change that by passing individual appropriations bills and allowing Members of Congress to openly amend the bills.
So far this year the House has already passed six of the twelve bills covering agencies ranging from the Department of Defense to the Department of Justice to the Department of Transportation. I have used the appropriations process to push for some important reforms and spending cuts.
During the funding bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs, I introduced an amendment that would prevent the VA from taking money away from the VA Choice Card Program. This is the program that allows veterans to seek care from private providers when they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or face extended wait times.
President Obama and VA Secretary Robert McDonald have requested to move funding away from the VA Choice Card program and instead spend the money elsewhere. I strongly believe our veterans deserve access to private medical care, and I am pleased to report that my amendment passed and was included in the final bill.
I also tried to use the Department of Energy funding bill to fight back against wasteful spending. I introduced an amendment that would have cut over $1 billion in spending by eliminating all funding for the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program. I believe that program represents unnecessary government influence on the free market. Unfortunately, my amendment was not adopted.
The appropriations process is also an important opportunity to ensure that government agencies are accountable to the American people. I introduced an amendment to the funding bill for the Department of Justice that would have cut funding to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by 20 percent or $250 million.
In recent years the ATF has seen an outrageous growth in operations and the number of regulations coming from their agency. This includes everything from the Fast and Furious gun running scheme to a recent attempt to ban common M855 ammunition. My amendment drew attention to the failures of the ATF and threatened them with a major funding reduction. I hope the leadership of the ATF takes notice and stops overstepping their authority.
Unfortunately, the appropriations process has stalled out in the Senate because Democrats want to see more money going to some government agencies. In an effort to get what they want, Democrats are blocking the funding bill for the Pentagon and our nation’s military men and women. In other words, the whole appropriations process is being held up because Democrats want more funding for things like the IRS and the EPA.
If we stay stuck in political gridlock, Congress is effectively limiting our ability to use the “power of the purse” to set national priorities and ensure accountability.
I plan to continue offering amendments to appropriations bills in the House as we work to reduce wasteful spending and make government agencies more efficient. I hope Democrats will move past these political games and join us in moving the process forward.