Congress Is Great At Manufacturing One Thing: Crises

Neil Siefring Vice President, Hilltop Advocacy
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Over the last several years, Congress has increased its manufacturing output dramatically. That would seem to be an odd observation about an institution that does not create goods. But has been making something very efficiently, rapidly, and exporting it broadly: legislative crises. Another shipment that will last Congress for the next several months is on the way!

Congressional Republicans have become adroit at flexing their manufacturing muscles. They wait until the legislative calendar absolutely requires that Congress acts on bills, thus creating a crisis. Congress then rushes to get the bills passed. These must pass bills are often constructed in a way contrary to conservative principles. So to get them passed, Republican leadership has to feign sympathy with conservatives through a show vote or issue statements to acknowledge the conservative grassroots. Once that is done, they can advance legislation that buttresses the status quo and avoids reforms the country needs, but that the establishment disdains.

The past and current way the Republican establishment deals with major issues before it is to stall and pass: run the legislative clock and move legislation that won’t change anything. And it is about to happen again at the end of this month with a continuing resolution that Congress must pass to fund the government.  

Senate Democrats have stalled the appropriations process in their chamber, and Republicans have been unable to move spending bills in the House after the controversy over the Interior appropriations bill. By the middle of July, it was clear that a continuing resolution would be needed to keep the government going after September 30. Yet the House is waiting to move a continuing resolution, likely until the end of September.  

They could have passed one earlier, and still could. But they won’t. Better to wait until absolutely necessary to force a vote and miss a chance to advance conservative reforms. The same is true for other programs that will expire shortly, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program. Both due for congressional action by the end of September. The debt ceiling is likely to be hit in a few months. Congress could take action imminently on the debt ceiling and not wait until the limit is days away.

When faced with difficult issues related to funding the federal government, increasing the debt ceiling, and continuing to authorize expiring programs that the federal government should turn over to the states, Congress delays action until the last minute. They then claim that there is no other alternative to the status quo, pass legislation that makes no meaningful reforms, and get it to President Obama for his signature. The president is happy to sign these bills. Each time President Obama does, he ratifies Republican compromise with their own principles, and helps them weaken their relationship with their conservative base.

Waiting until the last minute to pass unimaginative legislation that perpetuates our nation’s problems has become the norm for Congress. The present congressional course is legislatively and fiscally unsustainable. To create durable reforms, Congress must pass deadline-driven legislation well before it needs to get to the president’s desk. That will allow lawmakers to be proactive and not reactive. The result will be better legislation that will reflect conservative principles.

Congress needs to get out of the business of manufacturing crises.  Our national finances are in meltdown and big government is growing far out of proportion to what is should be in a constitutional republic.  The Republican Congress does not have the terrain available to it for further delaying needed reforms.  Congress needs to manufacture real solutions to the challenges facing our nation.

Neil Siefring is president of Hilltop Advocacy, LLC, and a former Republican House staffer.  His views and opinions are his own.  Follow him on Twitter @NeilSiefring