Forget the “divisive,” “polarized” election and scary negative campaign ad voiceovers, back in Washington the spirit of bipartisanship is alive and well among a class of lawmakers who decide how to spend taxpayer dollars.
Powerful members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees – or Cardinals, as they are nicknamed – have long worked together to spend ever-larger sums. In the Senate, appropriators share an especially close bond.
But leading critics of government’s size and scope believe they have part of the answer to their Cardinal foes. They are pushing a rival committee that’s purpose would be to undo the waste in spending bills.
“I call it the anti-appropriations committee,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Modeled on the “Byrd Committee,” a bicameral commission begun in the early 1940s, the committee could recommend ways to reduce spending which would then be subject to a privileged up-or-down vote on the House and Senate floors.
Norquist unveiled the proposal in an op-ed in the American Spectator in June, but the idea is far closer to reality now that Republicans are poised to take control of the House in the midterm elections on Nov. 2.
Other conservatives are joining onto the proposal. For instance, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is backing the anti-appropriations committee in his comprehensive, “Freeze, Grow, Fix” economic plan. In interviews, several others said they liked the idea.
The Byrd Committee was able to save billions of (inflation adjusted) dollars during World War II by eliminating Depression-era make-work programs that were designed to prop up the economy.
While the Byrd Committee is the model for the new proposal, Norquist said that because the committee is unlikely to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, Republicans should push for it first in the House, rather than holding out for a bicameral version.
“In the House I think it’s unstoppable,” Norquist said, adding that he is looking for a chief sponsor with the energy and vigor to push the idea through.
“I want the person who says ‘this is me, this is mine, when this passes, I’m a star,’” Norquist said.
An anti-appropriations committee could offer a platform for the Jeff Flakes and Tom Coburns of the world, who steadfastly watch for wasted taxpayer money with little institutional support in Congress.
“The next generation of self-promoting camera hogs could become regular guests on week-end television shows and talk radio by bragging about how many billions they saved America rather than speaking to the local chamber of commerce about how they snitched a few hundred thousand to give to a local nabob and his favorite charity,” Norquist said in his op-ed.
A spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner said he was not familiar with the proposal.