Congressman Thomas J. Rooney

Representing the 17th District of Florida

National Debt

I am proud to serve on the Appropriations Committee where I am able to exercise what James Madison regarded as our “most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.” Over the past several years, Congress has routinely ceded control over spending to the executive branch and struggled to meet the target of passing appropriations bills and a budget resolution on time, resulting in greater inefficiency and dysfunction. Our current system does not do enough to rein in this nation’s $19 trillion debt, and I believe we must enact reforms that reinforce Congress’ power of the purse and improve our oversight of the executive branch’s activities. The Constitution makes clear that budgeting is not secondary to the larger governing process, but rather it is fundamental to it.

A broken budget and appropriations process: The 1974 Budget Act sets the timeline for Congress to write a budget resolution (which is a blueprint to guide and limit future spending) and complete the appropriations process. Under this timeline, the president’s budget request must be sent to Congress by the first Monday in February, both the House and Senate must agree on a budget resolution by April 15, and all 12 appropriations bills must pass both chambers and be signed into law by October 1. Over the past two decades, the budget process has shifted away from this intended sequence of procedures, and Congress has routinely had to pass some “stop-gap” measure (i.e. a continuing resolution) to buy more time to complete the appropriations process. In fact, during the fiscal years covering 1977 to 2016, 175 continuing resolutions were enacted into law and 2015 marked the first time since 2001 that the House and Senate agreed to a 10-year balanced budget plan.

This is all particularly frustrating because in 2016, the Appropriations Committee honored its Constitutional duty by holding over a hundred oversight hearings, marking up all 12 bills under an open and thorough amendment process, and considering and approving every single one of the appropriations bills by July 14. Of the 12 bills completed by the Appropriations Committee, only five made it to the House floor for a vote this year and only one bill (the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act of 2017) was negotiated with the Senate.

The real drivers of federal spending: More than two-thirds of the annual $4 trillion budget is automatic or "mandatory" spending, which means that once it's authorized in law, it does not require annual congressional approval. In just 10 years, mandatory spending as a share of the budget will increase to 78 percent. Conversely, annually appropriated, or ‘‘discretionary’’ spending, has decreased from two-thirds of total spending in 1965 to one-third now, and is projected to continue shrinking. Therefore, mandatory spending (mostly for the government’s Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security programs) is the sole cause of spending growth as a share of the economy, and the main contributor to the government’s mounting debt.

Due to the president’s resistance to working with Congress on controlling spending—total debt on President Obama’s watch has almost doubled, to nearly $19 trillion. The House Republicans' 2017 budget resolution would have reduced spending by $6.5 trillion over 10 years compared with current policy projections. The House budget embraces tax reform that  promotes growth and encourages work, savings, and investment, and it contains no tax increases. The savings are higher than any previous House Budget Committee proposal and discretionary spending is below 2008 levels.

Constructive, conservative solutions: I believe Congress needs to look inward and determine how we can become more effective, efficient and accountable to the citizens we serve. Our broken budget system has undermined public trust in our ability to govern and jeopardizes any meaningful reforms to address the real drivers of our $19 trillion debt. With the intent of reforming the operations and the organization of the legislative branch, I am proud to be an original sponsor of H.Con.Res.169, a resolution Establishing a Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress. This resolution would create a Joint Committee specifically tasked with reforming the legislative process in order to restore Americans' faith in their elected officials and end the current practice of governing by crisis. We need to fix our broken budget process, restore "regular order" on the floor, and devolve power away from the party leadership and back to the Committees, where we have a real opportunity to participate in crafting bills on behalf of our constituents. I believe we need to review all mandatory spending not subject to annual appropriations and return some of those programs and activities to the discretionary side of the ledger, which will allow Congress to make cuts or increases as good public policy requires.