Saturday, July 29, 2006

Can Congress Make The CUT?

Ed Morrissey wrote on The Heritage Policy Weblog: Business managers responsible for budgets often review planned spending on a monthly basis to spot and eliminate unnecessary spending. Taxpayers might believe that a similar mechanism would exist for a federal budget that now tops two trillion dollars, but they would be wrong. Congress has no formal mechanism of budgetary review that allows members to force votes to trim wasteful spending at any time after the federal budget gets signed into law. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) wants to change that with his Cut the Unnecessary Tab (CUT) resolution. This resolution would make any unspent federal funding vulnerable to a recorded vote for rescission at the beginning of each fiscal quarter. Any Member of the House could offer an amendment to these quarterly rescission bills that revokes the appropriation for any program in the approved budget. That would force House members to go on record supporting or opposing each specific program.

The only improvement I would make is I still want to see a constitutional ammendment for a line item veto by the President, and I would like to see a law that calls for the surgical removal of any legislator that sneaks an earmark into legislation without a recorded vote (I would really prefer to outlaw earmarks altogether, but maybe this would be enough to get their attention).
How much of an effect will this have on spending? Perhaps not much initially, but it does have the potential to put some brakes on the sillier line items in the budget once they get exposure in CUT reviews. Budget hawks will have four opportunities every year to propose elimination of programs they see as superfluous or incompetent. If enough of these programs get eliminated, it could start a new paradigm for the campaign trail-- incumbents could outline all of the money their rescissions saved, while challengers could highlight the programs they would try to eliminate if elected.

Heritage's Alison Acosta Fraser notes the potential for incremental improvement in proposals like CUT:
This is another in a series of small steps to control spending that Congress is considering. All proposals like CUT would do some good in the short term if they were adopted and then seriously used to their full effect. Steps like these could create momentum towards reining in the huge growth in the federal budget. Members of Congress should be encouraged to come up with innovative ideas to tame the federal budget and then to follow through with them. Hopefully this would encourage them to tackle larger spending issues like the future exploding spending on entitlements.
CUT may not solve the gargantuan problem of budget bloat. It does, however, give Congress a tool that individual Members can use to shame the chamber into commonsense rescissions. No longer would any congressman have the excuse that one individual acting alone has no options to reform the federal government.

CQ blogged Will this result in an increase in spending discipline? It may not solve the entire problem, but it does give Congress another tool to control pork-barrel spending. I discuss this in greater depth at Heritage; be sure to read the entire post and let me know your thoughts.

UPDATE: In another post at Heritage, I note that the Coburn bill creating an on-line federal database of all spending has passed unanimously in Senate committee. It now has a number of co-sponsors from both parties, including Harry Reid and Bill Frist. (Trent Lott, oddly, is not among them!) Hopefully it will come to a vote in the full Senate very quickly. However, one major hurdle has to be overcome when it goes into joint conference. Read the post to see where the extraordinary coalition supporting S.2590 could fall apart.

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