By now you have seen several posts in this blog talking about the process that goes into funding park and recreation programs. Very likely not everyone knows all that goes into the proverbial sausage-making, with some Members of Congress having more influence than others, all the behind the scenes squabbling, and the obvious disorganization trying to create something that actually looks organized when it’s finished. Actually, you might not want to know the details. If laws really are like sausages, maybe it is better not to see them being made. In any case, here’s a quick lesson on this often not-so-appetizing process.
Programs are usually born in a House or Senate Committee as part of an authorization bill. An authorization is the actual legislation that establishes a department, agency, or program, as well as its scope and function. The job of drafting the authorization is delegated to the committees that will eventually provide oversight of the new entity. On occasion, authorization bills are funded within the authorization itself; these are usually mandatory spending items and include major entitlement programs like Social Security. More often than not, however, the authorization is little more than a promise until it reaches its next stop: Appropriations.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees hold the ultimate ‘purse-strings’ in Congress, responsible for doling out the money for the programs authorized for discretionary spending. This is typically done via what is referred to as a regular appropriations act, providing budgetary authority to these programs for the coming fiscal year, which begins October 1. In addition, Congress may pass supplemental appropriations, which are designed to cover unforeseen funding needs during the year, and continuing appropriations (also known as continuing resolutions), which provide interim funding for items not appropriated for under the regular or supplemental acts. Sounds straightforward and simple enough, right? Not so fast …
Remember the ‘flip-flop’ tag John Kerry wore around his neck like an albatross during the 2004 election? That moniker was a direct result of an authorizations/appropriations bait-and-switch maneuver that has become all too common among our elected representatives. What Sen. Kerry and many others, both before and since, have done is vote for an authorization bill and subsequently against its appropriation to score points from both sides of an issue. This may make for great politics but seldom achieves great results. It’s like having a lot of casings but refusing to put in the meat. It might not be pretty, but the meat is what makes the sausage so darn good.
Next time you read about a bill creating new authority for a p&r program or the annual appropriations measure that is supposed to fund it, hopefully you will find yourself armed with a better understanding of the terms and what it means at that moment. Embrace appropriations as a victory, especially these days when the nation is starving and Congress is pushing low budget diets. When it comes to authorizations, don’t be afraid to ask for extra pepperoni.
By: Leslie Mozingo, The Ferguson Group