Home > News > Forget the ‘regular’ process of lawmaking. Here’s how Congress really uses its ‘power of the purse.’
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Forget the ‘regular’ process of lawmaking. Here’s how Congress really uses its ‘power of the purse.’

- September 7, 2017
A magnifying glass is held over a sheet of money at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington. (Bloomberg News)

Welcome back to The Monkey Cage’s weekly presentation of Founding Principles, a series of short videos designed to explain American government and how it works — in theory and in practice. We started by looking at the structure of the government (Congress, the presidency and the courts) and then at public opinion, the media and elections — both the structure of our electoral system and voter behavior — and citizens’ political involvement.

Now we ask: What kind of policies do we get when all those parts interact?

We start with the legislative process. Back in the third episode, we talked about the structure of Congress. This episode examines how lawmaking works — or doesn’t. It tracks the “regular order” that is often praised but rarely observed. (If you recall “Schoolhouse Rock,” think of its singing statutes here.) Then we talk about what the late, great political scientist Barbara Sinclair called “unorthodox lawmaking,” and its increasing relevance. This episode pays special attention to the “power of the purse” and the budget process — which is especially relevant just now, as the federal government’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

James Madison called Congress’s power over the budget “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.” With the federal budget approaching $4 trillion annually, it’s a big weapon. This episode will unpack mandatory and discretionary spending, entitlements and sequesters. And it will follow the pile of dollar bills stacking up as the national debt into the far reaches of the solar system.

Along the way we’ll track the progress of a hypothetical Brady Bill (not the 1993 law regulating gun purchases but my own draft legislation regarding Patriots great Tom Brady). We’ll filibuster. We’ll block. We’ll polarize. In short, we’ll talk about American politics in 2017.

And do come back next week. Auditions are open for tuneful cartoons about what happens after a bill becomes a law. How a policy is implemented matters an awful lot to what actually happens after all that hard work on the Hill, when a new law actually hits the ground.