Sessions to Dems: Obey the Law!

Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, announced today that he will object to any appropriations bills proceeding to a vote until the Democrats produce a budget. Sessions has been one of the heroes of the battle over the federal budget. Day after day, he has pointed out that the federal government has been operating without a budget for more than two years, because the Democrats refuse to propose one. It has taken a while, but voters are beginning to notice.

Adopting a federal budget is not optional. The Congressional Budget Act requires the federal government to operate under a duly enacted budget, and sets out an annual timetable for the Congressional budget process. The Democrats have simply been ignoring the law because they think it is in their political interest to do so. They don’t want voters to see, in black and white, their plan to raise taxes while simultaneously expanding the national debt, with no end in sight.

Currently, the Democrats are bringing to the Senate floor a series of appropriations bills for FY 2012, which begins in October. This is plainly illegal under the Congressional Budget Act, Section 303(c)(1) of which provides:

(c) APPLICATION TO APPROPRIATION MEASURES IN THE SENATE.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—Until the concurrent resolution on the budget for a fiscal year has been agreed to and an allocation has been made to the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate under section 302(a) for that year, it shall not be in order in the Senate to consider any appropriation bill or joint resolution, amendment or motion thereto, or conference report thereon for that year or any subsequent year.

The Democrats intend to circumvent Section 303(c)(1) by asking for the Senate’s unanimous consent to waive that provision. Today, Senator Sessions said that he will call a point of order under 303(c)(1) with respect to any appropriations bill brought forward by the Democrats, until such time as they agree to adopt a budget. This will force Harry Reid to hold a vote, and the bill can proceed only if a majority of Senators are willing to go on record by voting to waive the legal requirement of a budget. Sessions said, in part:

One of the few things mandated for Congress to do every year is pass a budget. According to the Congressional Budget Act, signed into law in 1974, the Senate Budget Committee must produce a budget resolution by April 1st and adopt a conference agreement on that budget by April 15th. Furthermore, a budget must include total levels of spending, revenue, and deficits for no less than five years.

Once a budget is in place, Congress is prohibited from passing legislation that exceeds the levels established in that budget. In essence, a budget is both a concrete plan for the future and an enforcement mechanism to help ensure honest accounting.

One of these enforcement mechanisms is a prohibition against the consideration of appropriations bills in the absence of a budget. This is the essence of good government: you should not spend taxpayer dollars without a plan to efficiently allocate those dollars in a way that maximizes effectiveness and minimizes waste.

This point of order is contained in section 303(c) of the Congressional Budget Act. Once that point of order is raised, the legislation in question cannot move forward unless a majority of Senators vote to waive the requirement that taxpayer money should not be appropriated without a budget plan.

This is what the law dictates. This is our responsibility as legislators. And this is the duty that the Democrat-led Senate has refused to fulfill for the last 805 days. Senate Democrats have failed to adopt a budget in more than two years and, this year, have refused to even produce a budget for public review.

As soon as today, we are scheduled to vote on a motion to proceed to a military construction appropriations bill. Regardless of my feelings about this legislation, or my high admiration for those who worked on it, I have a duty as the Ranking Member of the Budget Committee, during this time of extreme fiscal danger, to oppose cloture on this measure and to raise the 303(c) point of order should cloture be invoked. …

The authors of the Congressional Budget Act likely did not contemplate a future in which the governing party believes budgets are no longer necessary, as seems to be the case today. That is why I am also bringing forward legislation that will raise the 303(c) point of order threshold to 60 votes. No appropriations without a budget unless sixty senators choose to waive the legal requirement.

The danger we face from continuing to operate this government without a clear, concrete budget is simply too great.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, warned that our nation’s debt is the gravest of all national security threats we face. It is so. We owe it to the extraordinary men and women who serve this country to defend at home the way of life they have defended abroad. That means the Senate must confront that debt that threatens us with disaster. …

Majority Leader Reid actually declared it would be ‘foolish’ to have a budget. It’s easy to claim deficit reduction as a priority—but if they were actually to put a plan on paper it would become all too clear that their desire is for larger taxes and only meager cuts. Numbers don’t lie. Their rhetoric creates the appearance of savings that simply don’t exist.

But while the White House and Senate Democrats may think their strategy is clever, I don’t think the American people are amused.

Until the majority allows this chamber to adopt a badly-needed budget, I am going to continue raising points of order on appropriations bills. Now more than ever we should fulfill our legal duties—not shirk them.

We were not elected to preside over the financial decline of America. We were not elected to shut down the committees, to shut down debate, to cede our constitutional responsibility to secret meetings and closed-door negotiations.

The Democrats are a party of scofflaws. Not just conservatives, but all Americans should support Senator Sessions’ effort to require the people’s business to be conducted legally, in public and with transparency.

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