The Budget: Nothing is as easy as it looks

This week, amidst all of the focus on the government funding bill, there was a significant piece of legislation that you deserve to be aware of.

Very quickly and very quietly, Congress passed the authorization bill for the nation’s intelligence agencies.

As many of you many know from past years, the actual text of the bill is classified, as are the dollar amounts authorized for the various agencies and programs. Members of Congress are permitted to read the actual text of the bill, but in order to do so, we have to go to a secure room and physically read it there.

We cannot take a copy with us. Our staff is not permitted to review it.

We have to comb through it as best as we can in a very short period of time. The only people available to answer questions are the people who actually drafted the bill. They don’t exactly point you to the questionable parts.

For a variety of reasons, I understand the need for much of the operational / programmatic content to be kept secret. But that inherent lack of transparency always makes me queasy. This is especially true given the revelations we’ve had over the last couple years about wiretapping, etc. Making matters worse, the bill was brought up so quickly that there wasn’t anywhere near the time necessary to do the due diligence.

At the end of the day, I just don’t trust what’s in there, and I couldn’t vote for a bill knowing full well that there could be a new authority or something granted that I believe is unconstitutional.

For somebody who focuses so heavily on national security issues, it feels a little strange having had to vote against the Defense Authorization and Intelligence Authorization in back-to-back weeks.

But strange as it may feel and as much as I may have preferred to support these bills, what’s right is right and I will never be one of these legislators who plays the game just to get ahead.

Funding bill: A 'Game of chicken'

And that brings us to this week’s funding bill for the entire government.

It’s an interesting situation where outside groups on both the right and left were itching and urging to shut the government down in hopes of forcing the other side’s hand.

The message from both camps was, "if we just don’t give in, the other side will have to." Playing chicken is exciting, but when neither side is prepared to blink, well… bad things happen to good people.

Both sides wanted a drag out fight that would inevitably end up in a government shutdown followed shortly by a temporary spending patch to get us into next year. The consequence of that is that we’d be unable to use our leverage right now to make the changes to the rest of the budget that we think are necessary.

For instance, with the bill we passed, we were able to provide an additional $69 million for reducing the VA’s backlog. We were able to cut the IRS’s budget by $345 million. We rolled back the EPA and Army Corps overreach on water. We were able to boost defense funding, embassy security funding, traumatic brain injury research – all while simultaneously cutting overall spending levels to back to pre-Pelosi levels.

We were able to do these things while also keeping the DHS funding limited to early next year when everybody agrees we’re in the strongest position to fight back against the President’s executive amnesty.

I understand where critics are coming from on this. I am very much looking forward to having that ‘discussion’ with a Senate majority next year.

If all I wanted was a symbolic shutdown to show the other side just how mad I am, I would be bitterly disappointed with this outcome. But I wanted more than that, and I think we got a lot more that.

I know we did.

Who's happy now?

The liberals are just as hopping mad as many conservatives are. They (the liberals) are screaming that the Republicans are getting away with far too much, and that the President gave away the farm.

In the final analysis – at least in my final analysis - I think preserving our ability to fight the executive order in January, ensuring that spending is actually prioritized for the rest of this fiscal year, and setting the federal government on a course – for the first time in nearly a decade – to actually prioritize the budget as we’re supposed to … that’s a reasonably good outcome given the circumstances.

Rich Nugent (R), Brooksville
Member of Congress,11th Congressional District

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