Budget process broken

Published 9:27 am Monday, April 2, 2018

Last week, the Omnibus spending package was signed into law, completing the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 18) appropriations process. Given that we are almost 6 months into FY 18, it should go without saying that the process we have is broken. We all want a better process and a better bill, but the reality is we won’t get one until the Senate changes its rules that require 60 votes to even consider an appropriations bill.
First, let me tell you why I voted for this package. Over the past nine years, we have watched as our military has been severely underfunded. Last year, we lost four times as many servicemembers in training accidents than in combat. We have troops using equipment that would qualify for an antique license plate in Tennessee. Our military is depleted, and they deserve better. With this agreement, we are increasing by $70 billion this year the funding our military will receive — and military funding will still be 20 percent less than when President Obama first took office. We are also increasing troop pay by 2.4 percent — the largest pay raise our heroes have received in 8 years. Because of the broken Senate process, this was the only way we were going to get this critical funding for our military.
Why do I say the Senate process is broken? Last summer, the House passed all 12 appropriations bills on time with a robust amendment process. That’s a process we all support. The Senate, however, did not consider — let alone pass — a single funding bill. We then squeaked by on five different continuing resolutions — including one passed after Democrats forced a shutdown of the federal government. This process created multiple unnecessary crises, and there is only one way to fix this problem: the Senate must change their rules to allow appropriations bills to be considered by a simple majority vote.
I also share the concern about our national debt, so let me be clear: a balanced budget constitutional amendment is the only way we will ever get spending under control. I am calling on Congress to pass this amendment, so that we can once and for all get our fiscal house in order. I have always supported a balanced budget amendment and will continue to support it. Tennessee has a balanced budget, as do 48 states, and it’s time Washington live by the same rules.
There are other priorities in this bill I’m glad received funding. For example, the omnibus also included $4 billion to fight the opioid epidemic, something I’ve been working hard to address in Congress. I recently heard a shocking statistic: in 2016 more people died from opioid and prescription drug overdose deaths than we lost in the entire Vietnam War. This is a national emergency. The bill also included the Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act, which provides grants to schools and communities to train school personnel and local law enforcement to be able to identify and intervene if there is unlawful activity and enable coordination between schools and local law enforcement. We must actively work to improve school safety and continue enforcing our current laws to prevent any further danger from penetrating our schools. As Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I’m also grateful this agreement provides more funding than ever for veterans’ benefits and services.
I’m ready to fix this broken process, but I also want East Tennesseans to know the House is trying to pass legislation that we all can be proud of. I hope this latest example is a call to action for simpler, fairer and more transparent rules in the Senate.
Feel free to contact my office if we can be of assistance to you or your family.

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