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Taking Steps to Address our Broken Appropriations Process

Since coming to the Senate three-and-a-half years ago, fixing our broken appropriations system has been at the top of my priority list. South Dakotans have heard me talk about the fiscal problems our country is facing many times over the years. As I’ve said, one way to address our growing problem is to vote on appropriation bills each year instead of pushing through a two thousand page omnibus bill at the last minute.

Getting back to ‘regular order,’ where we debate appropriation bills individually, is a good way for Congress to keep its spending in check. For only the second time since I’ve been in the Senate, we recently brought a package of three appropriation bills to the floor for an open debate, well before our deadline. This is a small but important step toward getting back to regular order, so we can be more accountable to American taxpayers.

The appropriation package includes a number of provisions important to South Dakota. It provides funding for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment at the Sanford Underground Research Lab in Lead. It also prioritizes funding for the snowpack monitoring system in the Upper Missouri River Basin for the Army Corps of Engineers so they can work to prevent flooding downstream in communities along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Additionally, the package appropriates $15 million for a new National Guard Readiness Center in Rapid City.

Responsible spending starts with a responsible appropriations process. We owe it to every American to be responsible stewards of their hard-earned dollars. I believe this is best achieved through a regular appropriations process that brings about serious, thoughtful debate on how and where that money is spent. 

Staying committed to a regular appropriations process allows the American people – through their elected representatives – to have a true, meaningful voice in how their tax dollars are spent. It also prevents us from having to rely on a series of continuing resolutions, which have a significant, harmful impact on our military readiness. Military leaders have repeatedly warned of the dangers that these short-term, stopgap spending bills have on their ability to adequately train, equip and maintain the force. In particular, under continuing resolutions, the Defense Department is restricted from starting new programs, which is deeply concerning in today’s rapidly-changing threat environment.

Since coming to the Senate, I've expressed my frustration with our broken appropriations system, which hasn't worked in 40 of the last 44 years that the current budget process has been in place. I’ll continue working with my colleagues in the Senate to push for open debate on each of the appropriation bills passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

We must also address the rapid, unchecked growth of mandatory payments. Mandatory payments such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, as well as interest on our debt, accounts for around 70 percent of all federal spending and is not debated or voted on by Congress. I’ll continue pushing for Congress to vote on the entire budget, not just the defense and non-defense discretionary sections, in order to help make mandatory payment programs viable long-term.

While our appropriations process is still in need of significant reforms to truly get a handle on our budget crisis and begin to tackle our $21 trillion dollar debt, taking accountability and actually managing the 31.5 percent of the budget we can vote on is a significant step toward becoming more accountable to American taxpayers.