It is often said the Senate runs by unanimous consent (UC). And in part, that is true. Unanimous consent is granted for committee meetings, to begin debate, to proceed to legislation, etc. The problem is that unanimous consent is also used to pass legislation. By some accounts, 94% of all Senate legislation is passed by unanimous consent. No transparency. No accountability. All constituents know is that their Senators were not on the Senate floor at the exact moment to object; and to be clear, any single Senator can object to unanimous consent and force a debate and recorded vote.
Then there is the innocuous-sounding “suspension calendar” in the House, which allows for the expedited consideration of legislation that is considered non-controversial. The legislation is not subject to amendment or even a motion to recommit, and time of debate is severely limited. If it was only used for naming post offices, perhaps it would be fine, but it is frequently used for much more than that. Earlier this year, the House used the suspension procedure to vote on an extension of business subsidies. Subsidies, really?
This is the takeaway: whatever you learned from Schoolhouse Rocks or high school civics need not apply. Instead, every child in America should be taught Nancy Pelosi’s infamous quote: “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Our Congress operates by that standard.
Even in the most scrutinized legislation, like the Budget Control Act (BCA), surprises loom. In an attempt to sell the debt deal to conservatives, supporters claimed the top line on discretionary spending would be $1.043 trillion. While the Ryan budget came in at $1.019 trillion, the BCA was still lower that the previous year’s spending, which was at $1.052 trillion – or so supporters claimed.
In reality, the BCA included an $11 billion loophole for “disaster” funding. To be clear, there is nothing “emergency” about this money, as it would be paying for past disasters, including Hurricane Katrina. If this was indeed necessary spending, it should have been included in the top line. The reason it wasn’t? Because it would bring the top line to $1.054 trillion, slightly above 2011 levels.
As we move toward Friday’s spending deadline, ask yourself what Congress is really doing.