HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

GOP plan promises to reclaim congressional powers

The latest piece of the campaign agenda commissioned by House Speaker Paul Ryan is promising to reclaim powers ceded to the presidency, give stronger directions to federal bureaucrats, and reassert lawmakers' control over the federal purse strings.

The plan unveiled Thursday is a product of a task force studded with Republican conservatives. It promises a focus on the nuts-and-bolts work of Congress: updating federal programs; advancing individual appropriations bills; and overhauling Capitol Hill's remarkably arcane budget process.

In many ways, however, the plan reads like an indictment of Congress' inability to do its core functions, such as passing the 12 spending bills as separate items instead of a year-end unamendable omnibus bill.

"Passing individual bills is far superior to using a catch-all omnibus," says the plan. "Passing individual bills allows Congress to maintain tighter control over how federal funds are spent."

Added Ryan, R-Wis.: "Our problem is not so much that the presidency, under both parties, keeps breaking the rules -- though it does. Our problem is that Congress, under both parties, keeps forfeiting the game. Yielding to the executive branch. Giving the president a blank check. Not even bothering to read the fine print."

But most of the plan's proposed solutions -- such as a renewed focus on routine spending and agency policy bills -- can only be enacted through a bipartisan approach that GOP leaders are often reluctant to adopt because it alienates tea party Republicans. Instead, Ryan has blessed an appropriations approach this year that alienates both Democrats and tea party Republicans that is likely to run aground and require an omnibus measure to revive.

Other proposals of the task force include: devoting more energy to oversight hearings, requiring congressional approval of major regulations, and directing federal agencies to release more information to the public.