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Turning the budget process into messy sausage-making

March 19, 2019

There is a famous saying about lawmaking being likened to sausage-making that is attributed to the great German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. It goes something like: “Laws are like sausages. Better not to see them being made.”

The point it makes is that the process is so messy, people should not see how laws or sausages are actually made.

We are reminded today of that famous quote as we watch in dismay how the process of enacting the 2019 national budget goes through so much abuse and delay in the hands of some lawmakers whose purpose is to extract pork allocations for their districts, or for themselves, or to gain publicity.

President Rodrigo Duterte had to step in and call for a reconciliatory meeting between the two sides at the Palace, but even that could not resolve the budget deadlock right then and there.

At least now, though, everyone in the two-chamber Congress appears to care about the budget’s reconciliation, enactment and implementation because of public pressure. Nevertheless, the 2019 national budget remains suspended in Congress.

As we can recall, the entire budget process is pretty clear as laid down in specific provisions of the Constitution. The provisions are :

Article VII, Section 22. The President shall submit to the Congress within 30 days from the opening of every regular session, as the basis of the general appropriations bill, a budget for expenditures and sources of financing, including receipts from existing and proposed revenue measures;

Article VI, Section 24. All appropriations, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local local application and private bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Reresentatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments;

Article VI, Section 25 (1), The Congress may not increase the appropriations recommended by the President for the operation of the government as specified in the budget;

Article VI, Section 25 (2). No provision or enactment shall be embraced in the general approrpriations bill unless it relates specifically to some particular appropriations therein;

Article VI Section 25 (7). If, by the end of any fiscal year , the Congress shall have failed to pass the general appropriations bill for the ensuing fiscal year, the general appropriations law for the preceding fiscal year shall be reenacted and shall remain in force until the general appropriations bill is enacted by the Congress.

The process is crystal clear as spelled out in the Charter. what is not clear is how some actors in the process can so distort their role in the process, that they can hold the budget hostage.

Reviewing all that has happened since the budget was submitted to the Congress by the President, we are constrained to make the following observations:

1. The budget process has been disrupted by wild accusations of anomalies about pork barrel allocations in the budget;

2. The process has also been disrupted by charges of anomalous insertions in the budget by the budget secretary, after the budget had already been submitted to the Congress.

3. While the role of the House is an exclusive and original one, that of the Senate is only supplementary (the Senate may propose or concur with amendments).

The charges and countercharges of irregularities from both houses of Congress against each other are unsightly. We are seeing sausage–making in our legislature at its worst.

Chancellor Bismarck was, indeed, correct. Anyone who wishes to keep his respect for sausages and laws should not see how either is made.

On the part of the legislators, however, they should realize they have already marked themselves in history as the Congress that has delayed the 2019 General Appropriations Act and compelled the government to operate on a borrowed 2018 version of the national budget during the first quarter of the new year at least.

Let us hope the reported House withdrawal of its version of the 2019 budget will finally lead to a reconciled version worthy of signing by the President into law. The nation cannot afford any further delay. At this point, the only way the legislators can redeem themselves is to act swiftly and get behind the country’s economic managers to help the economy make up for lost time with as much legislative support as they can provide.

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