TLDR Upfront: With Cabinet nominations now solely a spectator sport after the elimination of the cabinet filibuster, and the ACA repeal via reconciliation largely baked in because it was passed with reconciliation – one may feel there is little legislative leverage points to apply to the administration.
Oh ye of little faith.
Full Context in the Back:
When all the requests went out to agencies from the transition team I suspected it was less to target employees than it was to identify specific programs for axing. As I promised people whom I mentioned it too I have been tracking budget progress and it appears that is at least partially the case.
Attached is an overview of a budget plan that was released in the last few days that is hyper specific in the programs it is intending to cut or eliminate. Many of these may be important (because of what they do), but from an overall budget reduction perspective none of them are meaningful. (1)
What I mean by that is that the reality of the US Budget is five items compromise over 80% of the budget: Defense, Social Security, Healthcare, Social Welfare and Interest on the Debt. That means the entire rest of the budget: I’m not only talking about the entire FBI, ATF, DEA – but all the rest of the Justice Department, DHS, State, NASA etc. All of that fits into the remaining 20%. So although the headline budget reduction number is impressive, the kinds of cuts being announced are not meaningful in getting from here to there (the classic math problem of most politicians trying to balance the budget since no one can touch the top five.)
That means, even before I list the names of the department, these are likely as ideological driven as they are fiscally. And before someone validates this list with “but the Constitution doesn’t authorize this”, well son, the Constitution doesn’t authorize about 95% of what goes on in Washington so I’m not sure why we’re starting with the pinkie toes.
That being said – as these programs are important to people – here is the place to apply leverage. This article includes a timeline of when the budget process will land from the President’s team on Congress, which is early April. And although it may feel like calling a GOP Congressperson’s line to object to DeVos may be futile, calling a Democratic Congressperson’s line to get them to filibuster a specific budget item is an actual point of leverage that can work.
I suspect the President’s budget (in April) will be the first time that significant legislative pressure can be applied (vice protest pressures). All of these programs listed aren’t just funded, they are (I believe) funded programs that are based in statutes of law. As in Congress says it is the law that the President will do this thing, and Congress funds them to do this thing.
Congress continues to hold the purse strings and the filibuster on legislation, including non-reconciliation appropriation bills, of which most budget bills qualify remains. (Fortunately Reid wasn’t wielding a double-barreled shotgun and his aim was off to the right.)
So if this stuff is important to you, and if you feel like you’re having a hard time figuring out what to do – organizing around the delivery of the President’s first budget and filibuster fights may be the way to go. It may not be as emotionally fulfilling maybe as protesting (and nothing says you can’t do both), but in terms of what can stop what, it may be far more effective. And I’m not seeing a lot of effort (yet) around this topic. If you just have to go the guerrilla route, then I’m just going to say that the OMB is one of the smallest agencies in DC and also the most crucial in the last two months before the President’s budget is delivered to Congress. It works directly for the President (like an executive action arm) and is responsible for all the final prep and coordination. Whatever the departments submitted was done months ago. Wherever the tweaks happen to specific programs – that will be in OBM most likely. Protests, call-campaigns etc. targeted at OBM may be unconventional, but they (ahem) have less staff to afford the distractions.
Also you may notice a shift off of Politico news to The Hill news for me. That’s simply because as we move out of election and status-quo coverage and into legislative scrum coverage, that’s what The Hill is good for. Politico is news for the political operative audience, The Hill for the Congressional staffers (at least without getting way down in the weeds like SES Weekly). It won’t serve up nearly as much red meat as elsewhere to the partisans, but is a good way of keeping track of what will be going on as Congress kicks off.