Friday, March 17, 2017

Do: contact your senators and urge them to protect the Budget Control Act.

Donald Trump's budget proposal is out.  I'm not going to dwell at length on the proposal.  Suffice to say that it completely eliminates funding for numerous important programs and slashes funding for serious priorities so that it can shovel more money at the military.  Detailed exposition can be found here.

It's important to remember, however, that this budget is a request. The executive branch has no power to actually pass a budget -- the legislative branch is the one that gets to appropriate and spend money.  Congress has the power of the purse.

Ordinarily, that might not mean much to Democrats.  They're in the minority in both houses, and budgets are very explicitly exempt from a filibuster in the Senate through the reconciliation process.  Just like with the budget resolution passed in the first weeks of this administration, Republicans would ordinarily have the power to write any budget that they please -- with Democrats left powerless in the process.

But: the Budget Control Act still exists.

You might vaguely remember this bill from 2011.  Unable to pass a budget, Congress and the President tried to set up some artificial motivation in the form of this bill, which provided that if they failed to pass a budget then a device known as "sequestration" would occur, automatically and perpetually limiting domestic and military spending.  The idea was that this threat would force all parties involved to cooperate and get a budget done.  But they didn't, and the sequester came to pass, and so now there's a statutory cap on the maximum amount of money that can be devoted to either domestic or military spending.  And that's still in force -- military funding is already at its maximum level allowed by law.

So for this budget or anything like it to pass -- any budget with increased military spending -- the Republicans need at least eight Democratic votes.  We must deny those votes.

We don't want Democrats to do a short-term deal and lose their only bargaining tool for next year.  If they remove the sequester this year in exchange for some domestic funding, then we only delay the problem by a year.

Any deal must protect arts funding and environmental protection for the long term.  Failing that, we want no deal and no budget -- in the absence of a budget, then last year's budget will remain in effect.

Call your senators and tell them you want them to protect the arts, the environment, and diplomacy.  No short-term deals: either preserve our nation's real priorities for the long term, or filibuster any proposed Republican budget.

Senator Edward J. Markey:  413-785-4610
Senator Elizabeth Warren: 202-224-4543

Senator Bernard Sanders:  802-862-0697
Senator Pat Leahy: 202-224-4242

Senator Charles E. Schumer:  518-431-4070
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:  202-224-4451

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