March 28, 2024


The 118th Congress has spent the last few days voting on a spending bill to fund the government for the remainder of FY24. The Federalist Society’s Article I Initiative has documented the many ways the federal government budget process is broken. There is an annual tradition of threatened government shutdowns, continuing resolutions, and last-minute omnibus bills written by a few members of congressional leadership. Throughout this process, there is very little opportunity for transparency and real scrutiny of how taxpayer dollars are spent by the ever-expanding administrative state. This year’s budget has run the same course.

But every year, hope springs eternal for an orderly budget process with appropriations bills that pass out of committee and are voted on by the House and Senate with the opportunity for amendments. That process generally begins now with the presentation of the President’s Budget to Congress. Even as Congress struggles to shore up the funding for FY24, the budget process for FY25 has begun. Several officials from President Biden’s administration have testified about the FY25 budget in the past few weeks, including Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, and Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen. These hearings represented the diverse range of relationships between the executive and legislative branches.

Secretary Granholm presented the FY25 request for the Department of Energy to the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies. Subcommittee Chairman Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) opened the hearing complimenting the bipartisan efforts of the committee to work closely with the administration to finalize the FY24 budget bill. Secretary Granholm’s ten-page written statement detailed the priorities of the budget and how the administration proposed funding these priorities. The hearing also included a robust exchange that was targeted and substantive. Members questioned the Secretary about specific programs in their districts, and she was for the most part prepared with responses. At the end of the hearing, Ranking Member Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) stated, “This is the way Congress should work along with the Executive Branch … I just hope a lot of Americans see this on a bipartisan basis a committee where members came from every region of the country, expressing their concerns, expressing their interest, and to have very intelligent interested citizens in the audience today. We probably won’t get a lot of publicity, but this is America’s system of government at work.”

Secretary Becerra had a much more contentious hearing when presenting the Department of Health and Human Services budget to the Senate Committee on Finance. His nine-page written statement offered similar details regarding the policy priorities of the Department and how the budget request supported those priorities. He faced a significant number of questions regarding issues that were unrelated to the budget but revealed broader concerns members of the committee had about HHS. For example, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) criticized the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for expanding criteria for a federal program beyond what Congress had authorized, which put the state of New Jersey at a disadvantage. Secretary Becerra replied that he would be willing to work with Senator Menendez on the issue, but that solutions were not always straightforward. Senator Menendez stated, “The law is clear. It is CMS that—the kingdom of CMS—that has decided to add additional criteria that Congress did not stipulate.” Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) expressed frustration with the Department’s lack of responsiveness to multiple requests for documents needed for congressional oversight.

Secretary Yellen’s hearing before the Senate Finance Committee offered yet another example of the relationships between Congress and the executive branch. The substantive portion of her written testimony was one page and offered very few details about the Department of Treasury specifically. It instead spoke more broadly to the administration’s goals regarding clean energy, affordable healthcare, and increasing Internal Revenue Service enforcement actions against tax evasion. The committee also accommodated the Secretary’s need to limit the hearing to a little over two hours. While there was substantive discussion, the hearing felt far more ceremonial than the hearings with Secretaries Granholm and Becerra.

The modern Congress still struggles to exercise its constitutional authority over the executive branch. However, there are some models at the committee level that may present a path forward, especially in this age of budget austerity.

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