Senate Dysfunction and the Budget Process
During the last debt ceiling fight, some pundits in the media and on the left wished for the “Gephardt rule” when the House automatically raised the debt ceiling when they passed a budget. Josh Green at the Atlantic praised it in 2011, saying we should ”bring [it] back.” Now he is at Bloomberg and at it again and again and again. These pundits, and this is my first point, misunderstand what they are advocating for. Second, what they are misunderstanding reveals a startling blindspot: they ignore the dysfunction in the Senate. And my third point is that this is rewinding the clock on deliberative congressional consideration of spending proposals back to 1921 or before.
But first, what is the Gephardt Rule? The Gephardt rule deemed the House to have passed a debt ceiling increase when the House passed a conference report, aka an agreement between House and Senate negotiators, on the budget resolution. That’s a lot of procedural mumbo-jumbo, but the critical fact about was that the House and Senate had a negotiation and agreed. So once the House endorsed that agreement, it endorsed the debt ceiling increase. This was invented by Dick Gephardt in 1979. It was repealed by House Republicans in 1995 due to criticism, correctly to my mind, didn’t properly focus the mind on the increasing debt.
The real key here is how much the people who advocate for these solutions are really talking about dismantling the budget process even more:
Indeed, if you take the logic of Green’s piece you get back to the budget chaos before the 1921 (!) Budget and Accounting Act when Congress didn’t have any systematic process of debating our government spending. Except even then, there was a debt limit so Congress had a ceiling on what is going on. Now House Democrats want to get rid of that sliver of control too and cede the process entirely to omnibus appropriations.