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NTU Urges Congress: Do the Hard Things First

by Nan Swift / /

Lifehacker, numerous “Habits of Successful People” listicles, and even Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO, Ray Zinn, all say the same thing: Do the hard things first. After years of big promises from House leaders (the Senate’s challenges are whole other story) to pass all twelve appropriations bills, only to repeatedly fall short, it might be time to try a new approach. Specifically, it’s time to bring up the more contentious spending bills first. Doing so would help Congress return to regular order, place less stress on the budget caps, and give Members more opportunities to offer amendments.

At least since the enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the House has traditionally taken up “easier” appropriations measures first, such as bills to fund the Legislative Branch, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Commerce-Justice-and-Science, Energy and Water, and of course, the Department of Defense. In 2012 and 2014, the House mustered the votes to clear seven appropriations bills. 2015? The House passed six appropriations bills before major disagreements over amendments to the Interior and Environment bill ground the process to a halt. 2013 was a low point with only four clearing the floor before the process got hung up on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD).

That means it’s been years since Members have had the opportunity to offer amendments to some appropriations bills like Agriculture and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor/HHS). Too often, Congress delays consideration of the most contentious bills leaving little time for the negotiations and compromises necessary to get these products across the finish line, let alone time to go to conference and hammer out differences with the Senate.

Starting earlier than normal would be helpful, but in an already truncated presidential election year, it probably doesn’t buy lawmakers sufficient time to avoid the annual omnibus or continuing resolution spectacle. That’s why National Taxpayers Union recommends that the House take up the tough spending measures first: THUD, Labor/HHS, and the like.

If it becomes clear that the votes aren’t available to clear these, lawmakers will still have the time – and more importantly, the flexibility – to go back and reallocate the spending levels for each bill before funds are already out the door for the easier-to-pass measures. In addition, ensuring floor consideration for the ugly-stepsisters of the appropriations process will help preserve the good will necessary to get more bills across the finish line.

Doing hard things first could help move more appropriations through regular order, and would be a win for both lawmakers and taxpayers. Lawmakers would have the opportunity to truly legislate – to use their power of the purse and oversight responsibilities. Taxpayers might finally see fewer last-minute bad deals.  

Lifehackers and moms agree: eat your vegetables and take up the hard bills first.