It is certainly good news that the federal government no longer appears headed for a shutdown this week. However, funding the federal government through continuing resolutions and omnibus spending bills, as has been done for years, is not a responsible way to run the country.
Lawmakers were perilously close to a government shutdown, as has happened many times before, when they agreed to a one-week continuing resolution last week to fund the government for another week while they continued to work on a spending plan agreement.
Such an agreement was reached Sunday night, but it only funds government through September, when another budget plan must be approved. Congressional leaders are wise to ignore President Donald Trump, who continues — through his tweets — to call for a government shutdown.
But even Sunday’s spending agreement is a shortcut. Under congressional rules, there are supposed to be 12 budgets, covering the major federal spending areas that generally correlate with federal departments, such as transportation, homeland security and environment and interior. Each budget goes through a specific committee before making it to the floor of the House and Senate. This has not happened since 1994.
Instead, lawmakers have turned to omnibus spending bills, which roll the 12 spending areas into one budget. An omnibus bill requires only one vote in the House and one in the Senate. Because they are must-pass legislation, lawmakers often try to hide controversial provisions in these spending bills, as has happened with this spending plan.
While the process was flawed, the budget agreement, which must still be passed by Congress and signed by the president, funds much important work that had been targeted for elimination or severe cuts back by the Trump administration. For example, a White House budget plan threatened a $7 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health over the next two years. Because the federal government funds 60 percent of scientific research in the U.S., such cuts would have been devastating to medical research.
Congress turned back these cuts and, in fact, increased the NIH budget by $2 billion for the current year.
“This $2 billion increase in funding for the NIH, including $400 million for Alzheimer’s, will spur important research that is already underway to develop treatments, means of prevention and cures for diseases that affect nearly every American family,” Sen. Susan Collins said of the budget agreement. She has long advocated for additional research into Alzheimer’s disease, the country’s most costly disease.
Trump had sought to reduce the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by one-third. Congress instead cut the agency’s budget by only 1 percent. Funding for renewable energy research at the Department of Energy, which the Trump budget plan sought to eliminate, was also increased.
While he sought to slash other departments, Trump sought to allocate an additional $30 billion to the Pentagon. The Defense Department will get $12.5 billion under the budget agreement, plus another $2.5 billion if the White House develops a plan to defeat ISIS.
And, despite repeated Republican threats to defund Planned Parenthood, its federal funding remains intact.
As important, the budget left out funding for some Trump pet projects. Not only does it include no money for a border wall with Mexico, it includes language to ensure that funding for border security is not diverted to constructing the wall.
By its nature, this spending plan is far from perfect, but it is a vast improvement over what the president sought. Lawmakers should vote for it so they can turn their attention to crafting a long-term spending plan ahead of another showdown in September.