David Hawkings makes an interesting point in today’s CQ/Roll Call Daily Briefing. He notes the historic nature of Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s ascension to the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee – but also that this only happened because two more senior Democrats on the panel chose not to take the job. This is linked to the de facto death of the Congressional Budget Act (in the reform graveyard with the Federal Election Campaign Act, the War Powers Resolution, and other greatest hits of the ’70s “resurgence regime”).
As Hawkings writes (emphasis added):
Mikulski is getting the center chair because two more senior Democrats on Appropriations did not want it, which has not happened in modern times. Until now, it would have been unthinkable for a senator to turn down the opportunity to chair the panel that carries out the national legislature’s power over the purse. Back in 1986, Robert Byrd actually stepped down as majority leader so he could take the Appropriations chair. But such a move is implausible in this era, when serving on the spending panel has become more than anything an exercise in frustration. It has been 18 years since the dozen or so individual spending bills have been enacted by the start of the fiscal year. Governance by continuing resolution has become the new normal. The Senate has not had a floor debate on a single spending bill this year, and Reid never even tried to make that happen. Discretionary spending is in decline, and appropriators will be haggling in a less-than-zero-sum game for the foreseeable future. And they will be doing so, at least for the next two years, without any ability to earmark almost whatever money they wanted for their favorite parochial pet projects.