McMorris Rodgers--Radical Libertarian
Her "USA Act”--another radical, dangerous proposition to remake government
At the bottom of McMorris Rodgers’ June 23, 2023, “Weekly Newsletter” email targeted to her devoted followers she writes:
As Congress rolls up its sleeves and gets to work on the budget, I’m glad to report that we are making great progress to include my Unauthorized Spending Accountability Act. This is legislation I’ve led on for years to get spending under control by eliminating wasteful 'zombie' programs that are running on autopilot without being reauthorized by Congress.
“Zombie” programs! Oh my! We must eliminate them! But wait, who are these “Zombies”, anyway? It turns out that these un-reauthorized programs include (or have recently included) programs like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department, the Federal Trade Commission, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the National Weather Service, and the Federal Election Commission. A “Zombie Program” is another clever Republican turn of phrase—useful for propaganda to rouse ire but not so impressive on a closer look.
McMorris Rodgers’ presentations lauding her deceptively named “USA Act” (many dating back to 2016 when she was hatching this bill) conveniently avoid offering examples. That’s another well worn Republican tactic we should recognize: advocate generally for cutting spending (saving our “hard-earned tax dollars” is popular), but avoid recommending specific cuts—because cutting back on, say, Social Security benefits is really unpopular. McMorris Rodgers cleverly obfuscates in another more subtle way: she rails against unnamed “unauthorized” programs, when, in fact, all these programs were authorized by legislation—but they are now beyond their legislatively specified term for re-authorizing them. Congress, in its current manifest dysfunction, hasn’t gotten around to the re-authorizing task that an earlier Congress set for itself. Meanwhile, of course, Congress, in its annual budget process, sees fit to appropriate funds to be spent on these programs—because most are important and defunding them would be politically unpopular.
One might imagine that McMorris Rodgers, having established that some programs are beyond their term of authorization, would use her legislative power to bring, say, the Federal Election Commission up for re-authorization—but actual floor debate and re-authorization is definitely not her intent. Her “USA Act” would hold hostage these programs by mandating a sequence of automatic spending cuts and, after three years, expiration of any program on whose re-authorization Congress had failed to enact. How clever! Let’s put cancelation of un-reauthorized federal programs on autopilot. That way McMorris Rodgers and her Republican/Libertarian colleagues can crow about cuts in spending while avoiding blame for the cancellation of any specific program. The funding for the National Weather Service was just cut by 15%?? Well, that’s just the way the law works—those evil Dems must have caused it!
McMorris Rodgers’ “USA Act” (H.R. 1518 in the current Congress) (see actual text) is a Trojan horse in the service of Steve Bannon’s intent to “dismantle the administrative state” and Grover Norquist’s mandate to shrink government to a point where it might be “drowned in a bathtub”—all to be achieved by legislative autopilot. With the background presented above, read McMorris Rodgers’ web page on the USA Act—and note the support statements by a list of Libertarian dark money think tanks, including Heritage Action and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. Way back in 2016, pre-Trump, McMorris Rodgers even managed to co-opt Jake Tapper of CNN to blather in a hyperbolic segment about “Zombie Programs”. (The lesson: well-constructed and focus-group-tested Republican propaganda can be used to sell soap—and raise voter ire.)
McMorris Rodgers projects the image of a smiling, gracious soccer mom as she uses deception to push for legislation that would dismantle government. The USA Act, along with other legislation she fervently supports, like REINS, are clear examples of the what radical Republican/Libertarians would enact if they ever regain full control of the federal government. Vote her out in 2024.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. The terms authorization, re-authorization, and appropriations—and their applications to the federal budget process—are explained in a well-balanced article in Politico from 2016 “Meet your unauthorized federal government”. I recommend it. Note the absence of the catchy word “Zombie”—and that word’s associated mental imagery. The message of the article is the sober one that Congress isn’t doing the job of reauthorization that it set for itself. The solution is to do that job—which, thanks to the dysfunction the Republican controlled House has recently demonstrated in full—is not happening. The solution is not to use the problem as an excuse to hold essential programs hostage to legislatively required expiration.
P.P.S. If you really want to get down into the weeds, the Congressional Budget Office is tasked with keeping track of un-reauthorized programs. You can read the CBO’s complicated eight page summary for fiscal year 2023 here. The Politico article recommended in the P.S. is a much better explainer, but the CBO paper offers the depth of detail.
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