Tuesday, January 11, 2011

House Rules Revisited: An early defeat for the spending cutters.

WALL STREET JOURNAL/REVIEW & OUTLOOK, 1/11/2011, (Hat tip: Linda Bartcher, ONE WEEK INTO THE 112TH CONGRESS...) - "A week ago we praised the House rules offered by the new Republican majority to make it harder to tax and spend. There's a less hopeful coda to that story that is worth reporting to keep the spending-cut pressure on the GOP.

We praised new 'spending reduction accounts' designed to hold money from specific spending cuts rather than let that cash be spent on something else. The idea is that if, say, the House killed a $100 million earmark for a bridge to nowhere from a spending bill, the $100 million would go to reduce the deficit rather than return to the spending pool.

In last week's House GOP conference, however, a group of fiscal hawks led by Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake tried to strengthen the enforcement on those accounts so they'd be harder for Members of the Appropriations Committee to raid. The current rule puts the accounts under the control of Appropriators˜the spenders in chief˜and requires only that they inform the House of what they do with the money.

Mr. Flake˜and allies Jim Jordan of Ohio, Tom Graves of Georgia and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin˜offered an amendment to sequester the accounts until the end of the budget year and then allow the money to be spent elsewhere only with a vote of the entire House.

Notably, the reformers were opposed by Speaker John Boehner and the leadership and lost on a voice vote. Mr. Ryan, the House Budget Chairman who has credibility with new Members, was just about to speak on behalf of the amendment when Mr. Boehner abruptly intervened and called for the vote."

Mr. Boehner asked Republicans to trust him and his fellow leaders, saying that they and the Appropriators have got the message and are determined to cut spending. As a sign of his good faith, new Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers even cut his committee's budget by 9%, or four percentage points more than the 5% ordered by the GOP. But Mr. Rogers also lobbied Mr. Boehner against the Flake-Ryan amendment as an affront to his committee's authority.

We realize this is inside baseball, but of such details is the spending problem made. As Mr. Flake notes, the reason to support strict anti-spending rules is because the communal pressure in Congress to spend is so great. Appropriators try to limit access to specific budget information, all the while asserting that cutting this or that program isn't worth the effort because the money will be spent elsewhere in any case. Mr. Flake's rule would have made that harder.

Messrs. Boehner and Rogers will no doubt abide by the spirit of the new rule in the short run. But as public pressure and media scrutiny ebb, the temptation to return to spending as usual will be enormous. We report all this so readers know what happened, and also so Messrs. Boehner and Rogers realize that some of us will keep paying attention."


Post a Comment