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October 06, 2010

John Boehner Actually Has An Interesting Idea

Not to be Mr. Wet Blanket but I think we're all a little worried that while getting the GOP back in power is necessary, it's also necessary to make sure they don't immediately go back to the GOP circa 2000-2006 on spending.

No one is going to confuse presumptive Speaker in waiting John Boehner with a tea party activist but it's good to see he recognizes that if the GOP gets a second chance so soon, they need to really change things.

It's a process and inside baseball thing but it might actually lead to some spending discipline.

Current congressional rules are rigged to make it easy to increase spending and next-to-impossible to cut spending. Much of the law that governs the process--the Budget Act of 1974--is tied to rules instead of statutes. Consequently, we routinely waive the Budget Act's requirements to serve our purposes. Can't write a budget? Just waive the rule and move on. No harm, no foul. The "pay as you go" rule has been repeatedly ignored to justify billions of dollars in new spending and tax and fee increases. So we ought to start at square one and give serious consideration to re-visiting, and perhaps re-writing, the 1974 Budget Act.

While the culture of spending stems largely from a lack of political will in both parties to say 'no,' it is also the consequence of what I believe to be a structural problem. As Kevin McCarthy often says, structure dictates behavior. Aided by a structure that facilitates spending increases and discourages spending cuts, the inertia in Washington is currently to spend--and spend--and spend. Most spending bills come to the floor prepackaged in a manner that makes it as easy as possible to advance government spending and programs, and as difficult as possible to make cuts.

Again, this is not a new problem. But if we're serious about confronting the challenges that lie ahead for our nation, it's totally inadequate.

I propose today a different approach. Let's do away with the concept of "comprehensive" spending bills. Let's break them up, to encourage scrutiny, and make spending cuts easier. Rather than pairing agencies and departments together, let them come to the House floor individually, to be judged on their own merit. Members shouldn't have to vote for big spending increases at the Labor Department in order to fund Health and Human Services. Members shouldn't have to vote for big increases at the Commerce Department just because they support NASA. Each Department and agency should justify itself each year to the full House and Senate, and be judged on its own.

No, this isn't sexy and isn't going to win any votes on November 2nd. Still if sweeping promises like 'cutting spending' and 'shrink government' are going to be transformed into actual policy at some point, we can't keep doing things the same way they've always been done.

Increasing scrutiny, breaking federal spending into smaller (though still huge) chunks of money and cutting down on 'must pass' spending bills seems a pretty good place to start.

I'm not sure how much of this a House majority can do on it's own without getting the Senate and President to sign onto a new law but there are clearly ways around the current law.

Still, it's a good sign that Boehner is thinking about new ways to do business. We aren't going to translate the conservative/tea party wave into anything concrete if Congress simply continues to play by the same old rules that have perpetuated the go-along, get-along ways of doing business.

Maybe, just maybe an old bull like Boehner is starting to see the light.


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posted by DrewM. at 03:13 PM

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