Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Too much of the federal government is on autopilot
Overextension of authority by unelected officials has led to unaccountable growth in discretionary spending, she says
Editor’s Note: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington) is chair of the House Republican Conference. The views expressed are her own.
There are zombies among us. Zombie government spending programs, that is.
In a report by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Mr. Tapper spoke of “zombie” government spending programs that long expired but continue to feed on taxpayer money. These programs are what’s known in Washington, D.C. as “unauthorized spending,” and it’s the often untold source of the American people’s frustration with the federal government today.
Why are they frustrated?
Because the American people feel we are losing our power to ensure that every decision by federal agencies is subject to the citizens’ consent and accountability. People are afraid that we are losing our representative government.
The numbers are staggering. “Zombie” government spending programs – those programs which have not been reauthorized by the people’s representatives in Congress – account for roughly $310 billion in government spending, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, which we now know has categorically failed to serve the needs of our nation’s veterans, spends more than $61 billion a year that hasn’t been reauthorized by Congress. And some agencies, like the Federal Election Commission, haven’t been reauthorized since before most of my staff – and many members of Congress – were born.
What all of this means is that too much of the federal government is on autopilot, and it is preventing the American people from exercising their authority to review, rethink, and possibly eliminate government programs.
It is time we challenge that status quo.
The Unauthorized Spending Accountability (USA) Act is legislation I recently introduced in the U.S. House. It is now cosponsored by 61 of my colleagues, and it will stop “zombie” government spending programs, reclaim power for the American people, and hold federal bureaucrats accountable for what I call “being disconnected from their mission.”
Three co-equal branches of government have been overtaken by zealous executive and judiciary branches. The USA Act works to restore the balance of power by requiring Congress to either end or reauthorize programs that do not have current authorizations, enforcing this requirement through annual spending cuts for three years. On the third year, if the program has not been reauthorized, it will be sunset.
The USA Act also addresses the root of why so many Americans feel increasingly burdened by the rules and regulations coming from unelected bureaucrats in Washington.
Over the last several decades – under both parties’ watch – federal departments and agencies significantly increased the scope of their rulemaking. When left unchecked by congressional oversight and not given the go-ahead by the people’s representatives, bureaucrats took it upon themselves to become lawmakers. That’s an overreach they embraced with fervor.
In 2014 alone, the Obama administration issued 2,400 new rules. Seventy-seven of these were classified as “major” by the Office of Management and Budget due to their estimated cost on the United States economy of $100 million or more. To put that in perspective, that is more than the number of major rules issued in the first five years of the Bush administration.
The continued overextension of authority by unelected officials not only violates the separation of powers and diminishes the voice of the American people, but has also led to unaccountable growth in discretionary spending. Programs and agencies should not receive taxpayer funding unless the people’s representatives – their voice in Congress – have authorized them to do so. While the Republican majority has been able to dial back some of the explosive growth in spending, we must do a better job ensuring that oversight takes place, and that’s exactly what the USA Act does.
Finally, the USA Act calls for a refocus on Article I of the U.S. Constitution, something my colleagues and I – and a growing number of USA Act supporters – believe is critical.
Article I of the United States Constitution includes what I refer to as the “We the People mandate.” It outlines the powers of the legislative branch. In short, it grants lawmaking to Congress exclusively, and endows it with the responsibility to conduct oversight of federal agencies. This is also where the “power of the purse” concept originates. This was intentional. As the most direct voice of the American people, Congress was established to protect their interests and execute their will.
Some may question how the USA Act can save taxpayers money while also ensuring essential services do not suffer and cuts are not done in a harmful way. The USA Act lays out fiscally sound, but feasible, schedules for the federal bureaucracy to defend their need for taxpayer dollars. The legislation provides flexibility for authorizers to get their work done while maintaining spending discipline. And due to Congress making the effort to review programs, it will ensure that necessary programs are reauthorized, or in some cases even improved.
The American people should feel empowered through their elected representatives, but more and more they are feeling their will is ignored. With the USA Act, we can reclaim much of this authority and keep the slimy, overreaching hands of zombie government programs at bay.