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some coördination between the taxing and spending branches of the government; but in 1865, in view of the extraordinary expenses incurred by the war, a standing committee on appropriations was created. On the ground that no single group of men can give a speedy and careful scrutiny to the whole range of appropriation measures, one class of appropriations after another has been taken away from this committee and intrusted to other committees until, as a result, the work of preparing appropriations in the House of Representatives is broken up so that there are now no less than fourteen general appropriation bills prepared by seven different committees.
The committee on appropriations has charge of the legislative, executive, and judicial bill, the sundry civil, District of Columbia, fortifications, pension, urgency deficiency, and general deficiency bills. The agricultural bill is reported by the committee on agriculture; the army bill and military academy bill, by the committee on military affairs; the naval bill, by the committee on naval affairs; the diplomatic and consular bill, by the committee on foreign affairs; the post-office bill, by the committee on the post-offices and post-roads; the Indian bill, by the committee on Indian affairs. Each of these appropriation bills must be prepared and passed annually, for a general appropriation bill, except in the matter of deficiency, merely provides for the coming fiscal year, dating from July first. There are, in addition, large “permanent” appropriations for fortifications, river and harbor improvements, etc., which are paid out under a general law as long as authorized.
The basis for appropriations is afforded by the Book of Estimates transmitted to the House of Representatives by the Secretary of the Treasury. This bulky volume of figures embraces the estimates compiled by the several departments which are supposed to indicate their respective needs. These estimates are placed in the hands of the several committees having charge of appropriations, but up to the present time they have been regarded as little more than useful suggestions.
In the preparation of their bills the committee on appropriations and the other committees in charge of appropriations are really compelled to work more or less blindly. Sometimes they hold extensive hearings endeavoring to get a complete grasp of
For the character of an appropriation bill, see Readings, p. 341.
the multitudinous detailed expenditures for which they must provide. But, of course, it is impossible for the several committees, in the time at their disposal, to give even minor matters the amount of attention demanded by sound public economy. “The machinery provided by Congress,” said Mr. Littauer in 1906,"for the examination of accounts and expenditures, of economy,justness, correctness of expenditures, of conformity with appropriation law, of retrenchment, abolishment of useless offices, of the reduction and increase of pay of officers is evidently not in working order; at any rate some gear is out of place which needs looking after by the engineers in charge. Without some aid from those who have made examinations of the actual conduct of expenditures in the bureaus, your committee on appropriations probes away, in ascertaining these facts, largely in the dark. We follow up leads which come to us through rumors or through our own experience and casual observation. Our efforts in forming such an appropriation bill as this toward getting at necessary facts can amount to nothing but a scratch on the surface, astounding though such revelations scratched up actually are.
Recognizing the uncertain character of the estimates for appropriations Congress, by a law passed in 1909, has attempted to throw upon the President the burden of suggesting ways and means for balancing accounts which will compel him to look more sharply into the cost of national administration. Indeed the first signs of this result were manifested in Mr. Taft's message of December 7, 1909. He called the attention of Congress to the fact that the estimates submitted had been cut to the quick and that, in order to bring down expenditures, he had instituted a searching investigation into public business methods with a view to a reorganization of the service in the interests of economy and efficiency.
Not only do the respect've committees on appropriations have great difficulty in securing proper estimates for public expenditures; they are under constant pressure from every hand to increase the amounts which they recommend to the House for adoption. Every government interest is represented in this pressure for larger appropriations. A new bureau is created and it inevitably wishes to widen the range of its work and to increase
* Readings, p. 338, for an interesting example of methods.
3 See below, p. 369.
the salaries of its employees. Army and naval officers, loyal to their branch of the service, are always demanding larger and larger appropriations. Then there is the interminable list of appropriations forced upon Congress through log-rolling - appropriations for post-offices, river and harbor improvements, naval stations, docks, and other public works which redound to the advantage of specific localities."
More than once members have protested against this system. “This practice," exclaimed Mr. Cannon in the House in 1902, “of going from committee to committee that, under the rules of the House, has jurisdiction, and then before the matter has been investigated, by the aid of a willing Senate, failing in one place, rushing to another that has not jurisdiction, and sticking in amendments here, there, and yonder ought to be done away with. Appropriation for the next year, appropriation for this year, legislation here, legislation there. If action is continued along these lines it will demoralize the matter of appropriation and bring scandal and criticism - deserved criticism
- – from the people of the country.” Nevertheless, the system continues, and the interests that are constantly seeking large appropriations fight against every attempt at reform.
As a result, the committees are subject to a thousand demands for increased expenditures to every one that comes on behalf of economy. Moreover, each committee, jealous of its own prerogatives, is anxious to carry its own bills through the House. Consequently the Treasury of the United States is under constant and relentless attack; its defenders are few in number and the implements of defence are wholly inadequate to the task. When an interest seeking a new or increased appropriation fails in one committee of the House it goes to another; failing in the House, it repeats the same process in the Senate; and, under the system of divided responsibility which exists, it is generally successful. “There is no selfish interest on the side of economy," declared Mr. Gillett in the House, in 1905, “while every member has pressure from home for increased expenditure, and naturally the government suffers. Experience on the appropriations committee, when one sees how defenceless the Treasury is against the constant assaults upon it, is bound to make a man an economist unless he reaches that hopeless stage where he concludes that resistance is See above, p. 269.
2 Reinsch, Readings, p. 203.
vain, and that he might as well join the scramble, take what he can, and wait for the deluge.” 1
The English House of Commons solved this problem, early in the eighteenth century, by standing orders providing that the House would not consider any motion involving a charge upon the public revenue unless recommended by the crown - which means to-day, unless recommended by the Cabinet of responsible ministers representing the majority and definitely responsible to the country and to a party for its policies and achievements. This system has been adopted by the self-governing colonies of the British empire.?
A slight step in the direction of concentrated financial responsibility in the federal government was made in 1909 by the act of Congress, mentioned above, which seems to have attracted slight public interest, but which may prove a turning point in the history of federal finances. Under this act the Secretary of the Treasury is required to collect from all the executive departments their
* Reinsch, Readings, p. 357. The tendency to increase is illustrated by this official statement of appropriations, fiscal years 1907, 1908, and 1909.
Total, regular annual appropriations
879,589,185.16 920,798,143.80 1,008,804,894.57
Lowell, Government of England, Vol. I, pp. 279 ff.
estimates of the expenditures necessary for the ensuing fiscal year and then to estimate the probable revenues of the government for the same period. The act provides that it shall then be the duty of the President of the United States, in case a probable deficit is shown by the Treasurer's estimates, to recommend the methods by which the deficit may be met.
Obviously the rush on the Treasury must be checked, and as Congress is apparently unable to meet the problem, it seems to be calling in executive help, which also implies executive responsibility in a large measure.
Congress is, therefore, not unaware of the chaotic condition of national finances, and within the last few months the whole problem has been somewhat thoroughly discussed in both houses. Mr. Tawney, of the appropriations committee, has declared that $50,000,000 a year is being wasted by present methods, and Mr. Aldrich, of the finance committee in the Senate, puts the amount at $300,000,000 a year. During the special session of 1909, the Senate created a public expenditures committee with more important and extensive duties than any such committee has enjoyed since the beginning of our history. This committee, in February, 1910, reported to the Senate a bill creating a Business Methods Commission to consist of three Senators, three Representatives, and three members appointed by the President, and authorized to go into the whole matter of national finance with searching scrutiny and prepare plans for putting our budgetmaking on a sound basis.
The actual work of preparing an appropriation bill is undertaken by the committee having that specific matter in charge. The general committee on appropriations is divided into several sub-committees, each one of which prepares one or more measures. Usually, the sub-committees hold hearings, at which the heads of the various departments and chiefs of bureaus may explain their needs. The measures prepared by these sub-committees are then brought together in one group and considered by the whole committee. The chairman of the committee on appropriations, in order to have at least some supervision over the other committees in charge of appropriations, appoints a few members of his group to watch all of the appropriation measures, but this control is only slight — it does not in any way work an effective coördination of the spending groups in the House of Representatives.