(CNSNews.com) -- Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) says Congress will not be able to exercise its oversight responsibility regarding federal expenditures – including a half-trillion dollars in overspending this year alone - until regular order is restored and individual appropriations bills are once again debated and amended on the floor of the House and Senate.
“Until we can get our budget and the appropriations bills on the floor, we never can do really good oversight of the actual discretionary spending of the U.S. government because the appropriations process is the best place to do that,” Lankford told CNSNews.com.
"So that is still missing, and we're coming up to a continuing resolution (CR) vote and we're missing out on real oversight. And the hope is to get back to that process."
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) have repeatedly promised a return to regular order instead of relying on take-it-or-leave-it omnibus bills and short-term CRs to fund the federal government.
Lankford said Thursday that he will vote against the CR when it gets to the Senate on Friday.
Despite some gains made since 2014, when Republicans took over control of the Senate, Lankford pointed out that Congress has been “missing out on real oversight” by passing supposedly temporary CRs for the past 20 years.
But the senator warned that even with a return to regular order, there will be no quick fix to the government’s overspending problem.
“When you have $19.5 trillion in total debt, and you’re paying $225 billion a year in interest, you don’t solve that in a year. You don’t solve that in ten years. It’s going to take a long-term concerted effort,” he told CNSNews.
“I came [to the House] in the class of 2011. Most of us had no political background, and came in intentionally to be able to change the way Washington works,” continued Lankford, who was elected to the Senate in 2014 in a special election to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).
“And for me, I’ve been hammering away now for six years. But if we continue to implement a lot of things we fought for over the last six years, we can get this done,” said the author of the second edition of "Federal Fumbles" - a 149-page list of egregious examples of wasteful government spending.
Lankford added that getting a handle on the “waste, duplication and inefficiencies” of government in addition to curbing federal regulatory overreach is even harder now because federal agencies “are shifting from doing contracting, which has become very structured, to grants, which are unstructured. We now spend $650 billion a year just on grants, which have very little oversight.
“Just this year, there’s a half-trillion dollars in overspending,” he emphasized. “The budget process itself is a very broken process,” he continued, noting that 75 percent of all federal spending is on “automatic pilot”.
“The post-Watergate budget process was created to try and make it a more transparent process. But what it actually created was a process so complicated, it’s only worked four times since 1974. So we have to fix the process as well or this doesn’t get better,” Lankford told CNSNews.
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) has also called for “a much needed update” to the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which he said “encourages more government spending by default. And most disturbing, its shortcomings can lead to the erosion of Congress’ power of the purse, further ceding authority to the Executive Branch and diminishing the role of the legislature in our Constitutional framework.”
The committee recently proposed a rewrite of the law that includes a ban on long-term CRs.
Lankford told CNSNews that entitlements must also be part of any discussion about spending and budget reform.
“There’s no way to do budget reform without also taking a serious look at the long-term entitlement obligations that we have. Not just a discussion about the next 10 years or 15 years, but looking at a 20-year window and asking how can we make these programs sustainable. You can’t just say Social Security and Medicare are doing fine when everyone knows in the short horizon out there they go insolvent,” he said.
CNSNews asked the senator if members of Congress understand how angry the American people are about the federal government’s profligate spending.
“I do think Congress understands that,” he responded. “The difficulty is that it’s a challenge for the American people to also understand how slow government works, and that implementation of changes and cuts in government spending often takes 18 to 24 months.
“And so change in government is incredibly slow and in some ways rightfully so, because it involves so many people and affects so many people.
“One of the big challenges that we will face in actively reducing the spending in government is being able to fight through the Senate process, where a small group of Democrats could shut down the bill just based on the Senate rules.
“All those things will factor in. The key thing is that we all just gotta get our noses to the grindstone and get busy doing it,” he said.