Congress uses the "Power of the purse"

While the Congress will once again fail to approve a series of budget bills on time for next year, there are always some interesting items to examine deep in the fine print of those measures.

Like how "none of the funds" can be used for certain items.

For example, the defense budget bill that will be debated in coming days in the House of Representatives has 69 different prohibitions on how money can be used by the Defense Department which use the familiar "none of the funds" terminology.

Some seem a bit convoluted:

"none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to plan or implement the consolidation of a budget or appropriations liaison office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the office of the Secretary of a military department, or the service headquarters of one of the Armed Forces into a legislative affairs or legislative liaison office."

Other restrictions are more direct:

"none of the funds provided under this heading shall be used for the construction of any naval vessel in foreign shipyards."

One constraint would stop federal money from being used to lobby lawmakers:

"None of the funds made available by this Act shall be used in any way, directly or indirectly, to influence congressional action on any legislation or appropriation matters pending before the Congress."

And then we get back to something that seems very complicated in legislative language:

"None of the funds appropriated by this Act shall be used for the support of any nonappropriated funds activity of the Department of Defense that procures malt beverages and wine with nonappropriated funds for resale (including such alcoholic beverages sold by the drink) on a military installation located in the United States unless such malt beverages and wine are procured within that State, or in the case of the District of Columbia, within the District of Columbia, in which the military installation is located"

Some might almost be considered an earmark, because they focus on one particular item:

"None of the funds appropriated or made available in this Act shall be used to reduce or disestablish the operation of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the Air Force Reserve."

Those are "hurricane hunter" planes that are based at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi.

And you can find other parochial items in the defense bill as well:

"None of the funds made available by this Act shall be used to retire C–23 Sherpa aircraft."

You can also find one limit on spending that refers to a fairly recent political dustup:

"None of the funds made available under this Act may be distributed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or its subsidiaries."

As for a current battle over funding, here is one that I explore in another blog, a provision that blocks the Pentagon from spending money for sponsorships in some sports:

"Except as provided in subsection (b), none of the funds made available in this Act may be used to sponsor professional or semi-professional motorsports, fishing, mixed martial arts, wrestling, or other sporting events or competitors. (b) The prohibition in subsection (a) shall not apply in the case of sponsorship of amateur or high school sporting events or competitors."

They call it the "power of the purse" - and when the Congress wants to exercise that power, you can find plenty of examples in the fine print of budget legislation.

Unfortunately, those budget bills don't move very fast any more. As of today, the House has approved only 6 of the 12 spending bills for the next fiscal year.

But that's better than the Senate, which has not brought any budget bills to the floor yet this year.

The deadline for action is October 1, and the Congress won't reach that - again.

The last time the Congress got all of its work done on time on the budget was 1994. That was when Democrats wanted to get out of town to go campaign; but they still lost their majority to the Republican Revolution that November.