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The Republicans' Failed Attempt to Return to 'Regular Order'

Good things can be said about Republicans’ legislative intent; it’s their ability to implement that is the source of so much conservative frustration.  

House Speaker John Boehner was willing to push aside conservatives’ demand for a budget fight last December and sign off on a budget agreement with Democrats because he wanted to get past that issue and return to “regular order.” 

That term is used to describe the normal process for passing the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government.  

The way it’s supposed to work is that the respective House and Senate committee chairmen start the process in the spring, based on a budget framework. Once the bills have passed their respective committees they move to the full House or Senate for a vote. Once any differences are resolved and final versions are passed, each appropriation bill is sent separately to the president for his signature.  

Since 1997, the last time all 12 bills passed, Congress has increasingly struggled to get those bills passed by October 1, when the government’s new fiscal year begins, forcing members to lump any unpassed appropriations into a “continuing resolution” (CR) that essentially maintained the status quo.  

When Democrats took over the House and Senate in 2007, they basically threw regular order out the window, especially in Harry Reid’s Senate, and didn’t even pass a budget for years, funding the government through an endless string of CRs.  

Those CRs made it very difficult for Republicans to cut spending. If they refused to vote for a CR with Obamacare, Democrats would then claim that Republicans were hurting our soldiers in the field—who would be funded by the same CR—just because they didn’t want the poor to have health insurance. The liberal media megaphoned that claim, and Republicans would eventually cave.  

If Republicans could get back to regular order, the thinking went, then refusing to fund part or all of Obamacare or President Obama’s executive amnesty program, for example, wouldn’t affect defense department funding. And it wouldn’t shut down the government. 

However, the budget deadline is coming quickly and while about half of the bills have passed the House, not one of the 12 appropriations bills has made it through Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate, making it very likely Congress will have to go back to the dreaded CR. 

Returning to regular order was a good idea, but it may take a stronger speaker and Senate majority leader to actually make it happen.