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they reached their lowest point, amounting to $242,483,138.50. During the four fiscal years beginning July 1, 1885, and ending June 30, 1889, the annual average expenditure, excluding premiums on loans and purchases of bonds, but includ. ing all the other items mentioned above, was $263,016,473.18, but during the next four fiscal years, beginning July 1, 1889, and ending June 30, 1893, the annual average was $345,405,163.60, an increase of $82,338,690.42 for each year. The average annual ordinary expenditures of the Government during the three fiscal years beginning July 1, 1893, and ending June 30, 1896, were $358,633,341.40, an annual increase of $13,228,177.80 over the next preceding four years. The ordinary receipts of the Government during the last fiscal year -$326,976,200.38—would have paid the average annual expenditures during the four years from July 1, 1885, to June 30, 1889, and left a surplus of $63,959,727.20 at the end of each year, or $255,838,980 at the close of the period. The expenditures for the year 1896, although $31,298,508.41 less than in 1893, were nearly 25 per cent. higher than in 1889. For the current fiscal year the ordinary expenditures, excluding the cost of the postal service, except the deficiency, will, according to the estimates, reach the sum of $382,500,000, an amount which has been equaled in only one year since 1866."
What has led to this strange impairment of the power of the purse? Why has Congress, inheritor of the right wrested from the king to control national expenditure, become seemingly unable to control it, not as against king or President, but as against itself?
The answer is to be found, in part at least and proximately, in the breaking down of the rules and devices which have heretofore been measurably effective in preventing Congress from having its own way in money matters.
A check of some kind has to be sharply enforced upon every representative assembly, in respect to spending money, or the bottom of the public purse and credit would be quickly in sight. In the House of Commons, as everybody knows, a private member cannot so much as introduce a bill making an appropriation of money; all money bills are absolutely within the control of the Cabinet. Elsewhere the finance minister has
the exclusive making of the national budget. But we have given, or have imagined that we have given, unfettered freedom to Congress. Any member can propose a law carrying an appropriation, and can pass it if he can get the assent of a majority. Nothing of the kind. This has been one of our pleasing little fictions. We have had our hook in the jaw of Congress--not as strong and well-secured a hook as the one the Chancellor of the Exchequer wields, or the minister of finance in France or Italy-but still a hook which, on the whole and till lately, has held, and kept leviathan in grumbling subjection. Look at the mass of money bills that perish in every Congress. Ask the puzzled and angry Representatives who go home baffled, their pet bills never having come in sight of passage. They will tell you of a complicated set of ingeniously devised rules and practices which keep their hands out of the public treasury. Every Congress would be extravagant if the rules and customs would let it. The rationale of the recent increase in Congressional extravagance lies in the crumbling away of the barriers which have hitherto stood between the public money and those who want to vote it away.
1. What are known as permanent and indefinite appropriations withdraw large amounts of money paid out by the nation from even the nominal consideration of Congress. They are provided for by statutes which run without limit of date, and cover such indeterminate charges as interest on the public debt and payments into the sinking fund, with such specific charges as the maintenance of the militia service and the cost of collecting the revenue, together with many minor and miscellaneous payments. A committee of the Fisty-second Congress examined the whole subject, and discovered no less than 185 separate statutes taking money from the treasury in the form of permanent appropriations. The total sums called for by them all, Congress is expected to vote, and does vote, simply on the statement of the Secretary of the Treasury as to what existing laws call for, and without scrutiny or scruple. In the committee's report it is said, “It will be observed that the tendency to increase the number of permanent appropriations is of decided growth in
comparatively recent times. .... Stability for certain payments is sought by this means, but it takes from the country and from Congress the habit of voluntarily providing yearly for those obligations which most strongly appeal to the debt-paying sentiment. In the great increase of public business, Congress seems to vibrate between a disposition to retain full scrutiny of the public business and a desire to escape some of the annual labor involved."
Superficially, the official figures do not bear out the committee's assertion that there has been a growth in permanent appropriations. In 1881, they called for $141,000,000, out of a total estimated expenditure of $278,000,000. In 1887, the figures were $118,000,000 and $339,000,000, respectively; in 1891, $52,000,000 and $292,000,000; for 1897, according to the estimates laid before Congress by Secretary Carlisle, they should be $69,000,000 and $457,000,000. But the interest on the public debt and payments into the sinking fund account for the large figures of ten and fifteen years ago. Even in 1887, $94,000,000 of the total permanent appropriations of $118,000,000 went in those items; $33,000,000 will so go in 1897. It is in the item “miscellaneous" that we see the real growth of the system and the abuse of it. In 1881, Congress was asked to vote in the dark but $1,766,000 in miscellaneous permanent appropriations. In 1885, the sum had grown to $4,583,000; in 1891, to $5,075,000 ; in 1897 it will be not short of $21,769,000. This clearly marks the tendency to remove greater and greater sums from the need of running the yearly gauntlet. In one notorious case, a Senator actually twitted his political opponents with their inability, even in a future Congress, to repeal an obnoxious appropriation, inasmuch as he and his colleagues were going to improve their day of power by fastening it on the country in the shape of a permanent appropriation.
The subject is one which has frequently caught the attention of the more watchful Congressman. A bill was introduced by Mr. Sayers in the Fisty-second Congress to repeal many of the statutes appropriating money in this fashion. Similar bills were brought in in other Congresses by Mr. Dockery, Mr. Beck, Mr. Cannon, Mr.
Garfield and Mr. Randall. Secretary Sherman in 1877 admitted the need of changes in the laws, and Secretary Carlisle in 1894 expressed himself in favor of “restricting the principle" within certain well-defined limits. Without entering into the merits of the question, considered from the point of view of those having just claims against the treasury, or of accounting officers, it is clear that the practice of voting larger and larger lump sums, simply in execution of statutes by foregoing Congresses, tends to do away with that jealous examination and debate of money bills which has been one of the chief characteristics of a popular legislature having the power of the purse. The reduction of the system to the absurd was seen at the close of the first session of the Fifty-Fourth Congress, when Mr. Cannon, chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, stood up and coolly deducted the amount of the permanent appropriations from the total voted. For those he disclaimed personal or party responsibility. Fate or Providence must shoulder that burden. Evidently it needs only the extension of the system to make party or Congressional responsibility for appropriations disappear altogether.
2. A second factor in the increasing helplessness of Congress in the matter of expenditure is, the steady breaking down of centralized and responsible control over appropriations. Originally, appropriations were, as they should be, harnessed to taxation. Down to 1865, when a standing committee on appropriations was first appointed in Congress, the Committee on Ways and Means, the taxing committee, was also the appropriating committee. In early Congressional legislation, appropriations for the several branches of the public service were made in a single act. Now they are broken up into thirteen annual appropriation bills, though of the thirteen the Committee on Appropriations has charge of only six. Little by little the others have been taken from it, with the undoubted result of dissipating both responsibility and revenue. The tendency to continue the process is marked, and to give to every committee the power to report appropriations connected with its own subjects. What has been done in the House to scatter responsibility and resources it
is now proposed to do in the Senate also. A strong movement in that body to break up the appropriation bills, and to disintegrate the central authority which now presides over the annual expenditures, so far as the Senate is concerned, was only narrowly defeated a year ago. Next time it will succeed. The ostensible reason urged for the change is the greater care and time which the separate committees can bestow upon the separate bills. The real reason is to magnify the importance of the smaller men and the smaller committees. The certain result will be to destroy responsibility and swell the appropriations.
As early as the Forty-third Congress—that is, within less than ten years of the creation of the Committee on Appropriations—complaint was loudly made that its powers were too great and autocratic. But when the Democrats came into control of the Forty-fourth Congress, stringently pledged to retrenchment, one of the first steps they took was to increase the power of the Committee on Appropriations. They saw where they must strike if there was to be any cutting down at all. On January 17, 1876, an amendment to the rules was introduced and passed which, in the language of one opposing the change, would “practically abolish all committees except the Committee on Appropriations.” Mr. Randall frankly admitted that his intention was to consolidate control of expenditures in the Committee on Appropriations, and so secure retrenchment. He himself was able to set forth the result on February 8, 1877, when he said: “The appropriations of the last Congress amounted in the aggregate to $359,066,668. On the other hand, the appropriations of the Forty-fourth Congress, according to your own books, made up by the Departments, were during the first session $148,451,573, and the probability is that if the Senate does not resist the appropriations recommended by the Committee on Appropriations, as far as I am able to gather what they will be this session, they will be $142,286,597 ; making the appropriation bills of the present Congress during its two sessions for the two years aggregate $290,738,171. And the net result of the presence here of a Democratic House is thus shown to be a saving to the people of $68,328,497.”