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December 02, 2010

Hmmm: Boehner, Cantor, Ryan Proposing Big Changes In Appropriations Processes Intended To Make It Harder To Spend And Easier To Cut

Process-type stuff is sometimes a fig leaf, a way to avoid talking about substantive issues which are too politically hot to touch.

On the other hand, that's their advantage, too: If you change the rules to make it hard to spend and easier to cut, you can always run back to voters upset by hot-button cuts with the (semi-true) excuse: "The rules made me do it; my hand was forced." Controlling the rules usually means controlling the outcome.

Is this a fig leaf, then, or a legitimate attempt to change how Washington does its spending business? Hard to tell based on a brief story, but Republicans make it sound good at least.

House Republicans seem intent on blowing up the staid appropriations process when they take power in January — potentially upending the old bulls in both parties who have spent decades building their power over the federal budget.

The plans include slicing and dicing appropriations bills into dozens of smaller, bite-size pieces — making it easier to kill or slash unpopular agencies. Other proposals include statutory spending caps, weekly votes on spending cuts and other reforms to ensure spending bills aren’t sneakily passed under special rules.

On some level, their plans may create a sense of organized chaos on the House floor — picture dozens of votes on dozens of federal program cuts and likely gridlock on spending bills. And don’t forget that a lot of these efforts will die with a Democratic-led Senate and a Democrat in the White House.

But the intent is to force debate as much as to actually legislate — and make Old Guard Republicans and Democrats uncomfortable with a new way of thinking about the size and scope of government.

"Forcing debate" is not the same as "achieving results," so that right there constitutes a lowering of the bar for success. I think Tea Partiers will welcome a forcing of debate -- but only if it leads to results.

Still, it's a good thing that the right people are distressed by this:

Insiders who have made a living under the old system are sure to push back, and many fear that Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) may not understand what he is doing.

“John should talk with the professional appropriators about the complexities, rather than talk off the top of his head. His plans would take a huge amount of the House’s time, but what would it accomplish?” said a dubious former House Republican member of the Appropriations Committee who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Did you catch those two give-the-game-away words? Captain Ed did. "Professional appropriators?"

A former Democratic professional appropriator is also butthurt:

“On the practical side, it has to be nuts. Given the difficulty in passing the current bills, adding these changes would be a dream world. ... There could be a revolt by members, who will want to get home and campaign.”

It's good to know that professional appropriators all want to leave the office early and go home. And are willing to pork up bills to get easy votes so they can have more fishin' time.

Paul Ryan will be pushing for spending caps on all elements of government, and further, he doesn't want these to be mere rules of the House, but rather binding statutory rules.

In particular, he is intent on firm spending caps, which would require the Senate and president to agree to new federal law. Ryan added that he wants spending caps to cover defense as well as domestic programs.

This stuff seems somewhat tepid. It doesn't have the power of announcing which parts of government will be cut and by how much. And if these guys can't even propose such stuff, can't even dare to state the specific cuts intended, how can they ever come into being?

However, sometimes rule changes can force paradigm shifts, so that it becomes easier to announce sweeping cuts which apparently they currently can't agree to.

This isn't great, but it's not bad, either. It's not a finished house; not even close. But at least it's a bit of ground-breaking and a bit of concrete-pouring.

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posted by Ace at 12:37 PM

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