Orrin Hatch, Mark Udall back anti-appropriations committee in Senate

In a major development on spending cuts, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado are introducing a proposal for a new congressional committee focused only on eliminating duplicative and wasteful government spending.

Udall’s backing of the “anti-appropriations committee” is one of the most significant moves to embrace spending cuts by a moderate Democrat in the Senate and gives the proposal momentum and cover from potential critics, insiders say.

Hatch has both the incentive and the skill to pull off passage of the new committee, proponents hope. He could face a challenge from the right in securing the Republican nomination in Utah for the 2012 cycle, and is known for his knack at reaching across the aisle.

“This is a huge step forward,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a key backer of the proposal. “Hatch has a history of being able to get Democrats. Udall – this is the kind of thing that could make his career as a moderate.”

The committee itself would consist of six Republicans and six Democrats. At least once a year, the committee would introduce legislation to reduce or eliminate duplicative or wasteful programs that would receive an up-or-down vote under the “reconciliation” rules that prevent a filibuster.

Crucially, the committee would also have subpoena power to investigate potentially wasteful government programs.

Hatch said the government’s dire fiscal situation was a key reason to install the new committee.

“Our nation has reached a tipping point.  Our debt now tops $14 trillion, and threatens the prosperity of our nation.  Targeting the fat on Washington’s bloated bureaucracy, as this legislation does, is a common-sense way of saving taxpayers billions, and of getting  the federal government to live within its means,” Hatch said in a written statement.

“Many government programs were created with good intentions, but in too many cases, Congress has also created other redundant and sometimes wasteful programs rather than strategically targeting resources where they’re needed,” Udall said in a written statement. “An ‘un-authorizing’ committee would add teeth to our efforts to streamline our government, pare down our national budget, save taxpayers’ dollars and strengthen the private economy by making sure the government is as lean as ever.”

The Hatch-Udall team backing the bill also changes the landscape for a proposal once thought to only have a chance at passing the House. Now that the bill is “live” in the Senate, it could give momentum to the companion measure introduced in the House by freshman Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina.

Duncan introduced his bill in early February and has so far attracted a modest 16 cosponsors.

Hatch and Udall dropping the bill also comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Study that showed tens of billions of dollars in duplicative spending by the government. The report “makes us all look like jackasses,” Coburn told reporters last week.

“There’s more than enough fat to target as Senator Coburn’s GAO report demonstrated last week,” Hatch said.

The proposal for an anti-appropriations committee is modeled on the “Byrd Committee,” a bicameral commission begun in the early 1940s which cut billions in (inflation adjusted) dollars during World War II by eliminating Depression-era make-work programs.