CHN: House Poised to Vote on Ominous Bills

Two budget process bills with potentially dire consequences are scheduled for House votes on July 27.  Both proposals, the Government Efficiency Act of 2006 (H.R. 5766) and Abolishment of Obsolete Agencies and Federal Sunset Act of 2005 (H.R. 3282), would establish unelected “sunset commissions” whose recommendations to change or terminate federal programs would be placed on a fast track before Congress.  The sunset commissions would review all discretionary government programs including Head Start, Section 8,  and  education and training, and also entitlement programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Social Security. The commission would be given the authority to make recommendations for changes to or the elimination of agencies and programs. The partisan nature of the commissions put at particular risk beneficial programs that don’t enjoy the support of the President who appoints the commissioners in H.R. 5766, the majority party whose leaders determine the make-up of the commission in H.R. 3282, or a constituency with deep pockets.
H.R. 5766 establishes a series of ad hoc commissions called into existence by the President or Congress to review designated programs, or rules and regulations within programs, with no requirement to seek input from the public. The commission then makes legislative recommendations to the President who has 30 days to submit legislation to Congress for quick action.  Under H.R. 3282, there is one standing commission that doesn’t expire until 2030.  It reviews every agency at least once every 12 years.  After review, Congress has one year to reauthorize the programs in that agency.  If it fails to do so within one year, the agency will be abolished even if that was not the commission’s recommendation.

The rationale of sunset commission proponents is that will bring greater accountability into government.  However, proponents feel that these potentially unconstitutional bodies amount to the outsourcing by Congress of their oversight responsibility to an entity that may lack expertise about the programs and agencies they are called on to evaluate.  Advocates share deep concerns that effective programs related to education, workers, the environment, housing, nutrition, health, and long-term security could be altered or totally eliminated.

The House is set to consider both H.R 5766 and H.R. 3282.  If both were to pass it is not clear how they would be combined or moved forward.  The Senate is not scheduled to vote on similar legislation, although similar proposals have been introduced.

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