November 18, 2023
On November 14, nearly all Democrats joined with a plurality of Republicans to pass House Speaker Mike Johnson's continuing resolution. The CR was rapidly passed in the Senate and signed by President Biden.
The CR appropriates funding for some programs through January 19, for most others through February 2, and for the Farm Bill through September 30.
This gives the CR a couple of seemingly-new twists. Kicking the can past Christmas is superficially new. In reality, this just makes governing by CRs last longer, which is nothing new. Fanning out a single resolution so funding allocations expire not on one date certain but on three is new. In reality, this likely will work out to be not-at-all different.
Johnson claimed before the vote, " I'm done with short-term CRs." But at each of this CR's three dates-certain, the pressures and incentives will remain the same, and the same bipartisan majority will stand ready to pass still-more continuing resolutions.
Like the latest CR, each new CR could stagger the dates certain for its remaining programs, setting another one of its program's date certain about a year out. And as each fanned-out CR would come due, the same old script would likely get acted out again.
Rolling Pork and Rolling Vacations
Decentralized CRs will be used as opportunities to condemn any legislators who vote no to an omnibus bill, a near-omnibus bill, another decentralized CR, or an appropriation bill. Voting no would be shutting down the government department, depriving everyone of vital services, ultimately defaulting on honoring Treasury bills and Social Security and Medicare repayment obligations, and ultimately costing people their jobs, standard of living, housing, medical care, even food. Legislators could only avoid condemnation by voting to fund essentially all pork, and to repay any federal pay and contractor payments that would get temporarily shut down one program area at a time.
In short, decentralized CRs will be used as always to condemn legislators who vote no—but now not just occasionally and especially during holiday seasons, but instead every month of every year.
Heating up the public debate without taking action is a losing strategy we've seen play out before. President Trump talked about building a wall and prosecuting Hillary Clinton. Trump got all the blowback while delivering none of this action.
When Republican nominal leaders and Republican rank and file have faced blowback in the past, the leaders have scheduled votes, and hefty minorities of the Republican swing votes have joined with all Democrats to fund pork plus shutdown vacations.
Mike Johnson has at times personally supported pork and other coercion. Included in the major votes scored by Conservative Review in the period from 9/8/2017 through 1/11/2019 were votes by Johnson to pass the Pelosi-Schumer-Trump debt deal, pass an $81 billion spending increase, advance a $1.3 trillion omnibus, pass a $1 trillion crony-socialist farm bill, extend government flood insurance, pass a nation-building bill, pass a $900 billion socialist farm bill, end debate on USA involvement in a foreign war, release dangerous criminals from federal prisons, and make federal pay mandatory spending.
As speaker, Johnson quickly said that his "first priority" is to reach agreement on funding government.
And yet, even though a change in such behavior feels unlikely, such a change actually has happened before. After 1/11/2019, with just a few exceptions (notably, passing a $1.5 trillion omnibus, not defunding vaccine mandates, and retaining federal control of schools), Johnson had suddenly started voting almost entirely conservatively, lifting his Liberty Score to 74% pro-liberty.
Johnson can't make people agree on funding government. Enough constitutionalist representatives could support reducing spending to stop the other Republicans from passing pork bills all by themselves.
We've seen winning actions from leaders before. President Reagan supported action by Fed chairman Paul Volcker, championed cuts in taxes and regulations, and stood his ground. Reagan took action and took the heat, and by doing both, slashed inflation.
Johnson may not last long as speaker. He has now helped Republicans join with Democrats to pass a CR, so he could get recalled through a motion from a constitutionalist. If he turns and helps constitutionalists limit pork, he could get recalled through a motion from a Republican Progressive.
The understanding is dawning on people, though, that there is no longer a choice about whether to cut spending. As Daniel Lacalle recently explained, not even Fed rate cuts will save the economy. The federal government and its cronies the finance sector are expanding at the expense of pushing the private sector into a deepening depression. Robert Higgs showed that this exact shift defined the Great Depression. The current spending is unsustainable. It will be reversed sooner or later, one way or another.
Constitutionalists could simply vote no to spending. Johnson could simply turn and not schedule votes to pass bills with Democratic votes. The Republican Progressive swing votes could simply not commit political suicide by teaming up with Progressive Democrats to flare up inflation for an extended period yet again.
If each of these parties would simply do its part, then the current house, all by itself, would have unbreakable power to veto continued spending.
Timely Information and Pressure
There's a simple change that Johnson, constitutionalists, and media should make to get this change started right now. Right now it's impossible for the public, and maybe even for most politicians, to tell quantitatively where we stand with appropriations. Johnson, constitutionalists, and media should change this immediately.
As of November 13, the current house had passed appropriation bills for 7 of 12 areas. The current senate had passed appropriation bills for 3 of 12 areas. The Congressional Budget Office says that committee members, and representatives who ask, receive data, other information, and account-level details of the budgetary effects of proposed appropriation bills. But neither the CBO nor representatives have publicly revealed the bottom line of how much the current house and senate bills would change next year's spending compared to this year's.
Waiting until the bills are law and in practice irreversible, and then further delaying first releases of best-available estimates or results, is the single most powerful way to reduce the accuracy of process control. Legislative committees, full houses, and full legislatures alike make terrible executives.
Johnson, constitutionalists, and media should demand immediate and ongoing public reveals of the status of next year's bottom line, revealing what the percentage changes in spending would be under the house's bills so far and under the senate's bills so far. Media, activists, and politicians can make outstanding use of this bottom-line information as part of their pushback against the pro-spending hype.
Republicans can reverse spending the hard way, without public release of CBO information. They should reverse spending the easier way, with public release of CBO information.
Public servants work for us. If we make them.