Annual appropriations bills allow the legislative branch to exercise an important responsibility. In addition to allocating federal dollars among the departments and agencies, these bills provide Congress with oversight of the executive branch, demonstrating the checks and balances our Founders instituted in our system of government.
In recent years, budget disagreements and a lack of consensus have made it difficult to enact individual appropriations bills into law. The work of the appropriations committee, including during the chairmanship of Sen. Thad Cochran, has been excellent despite these obstacles. The committee has consistently adhered to the budget and completed its bills on time.
The system collapsed when a minority decided to prevent appropriations bills from coming to the Senate floor. Bills were blocked after earning unanimous or near-unanimous support in the appropriations committee. To fund the government, all 12 appropriations bills had to be bundled into an “omnibus” at the end of the year, eliminating the opportunity for Senators to offer amendments. Frustrated with the broken system, President Trump has vowed never to sign another “omnibus.”
More Transparency and Accountability
The President’s vow may not be necessary. The Appropriations Committee has already sent 10 bills for Fiscal Year 2019 to the floor, and three of them are on their way to earning full Senate approval. Amendments have been debated and voted on, bringing transparency and accountability to the process. The three bills under consideration cover military construction and veterans programs; energy and water projects; and security for the U.S. Capitol complex.
These bills adhere to the two-year budget agreement signed by President Trump, and I will vote for them. They have a direct impact on the state of Mississippi in many ways. For example, the bill for veterans and military construction would provide support for an Aeromedical Staging Squadron facility at Keesler Air Force Base. It would also fund veterans’ health care, provide grants for veterans’ nursing homes run by the state, and facilitate the creation or expansion of veterans’ cemeteries. Likewise, the bill for energy and water projects would improve our waterways, flood-control efforts, ports, and coastlines. Lastly, the funding bill for the legislative branch improves safety for those working in the Capitol and those who visit.
More Work on Nominations, Funding Bills
More appropriations bills are likely to be ahead on the Senate calendar. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell canceled the state work period in August so that Senators can remain in Washington to work on appropriations bills and confirm President Trump’s executive and judicial nominees. The confirmation of President Trump’s nominees has been painfully slow given procedural delays by Democrats, and the appropriations bills need to be completed before the new fiscal year begins on October 1.
I am hopeful this return to regular order under Republican leadership will be permanent as more appropriations bills come to the floor. These bills matter to American lives and communities, and they should be handled with diligence and care. Without rigorous executive oversight, Congress ignores one of its greatest powers granted by the Constitution – the power of the purse.