Spending reform, a pivotal motivation of the November “shellacking” suffered by Democrats, has shown some signs of life ahead of the 112th Congress — the Republican Pledge to America outlined several steps GOP lawmakers took in the minority to stem the flow of spending and has been reiterated in the adopted conference rules package and congressional calendar. Republicans have eschewed the institutional practices that aid federal profligacy, pledging waiting periods for bills before they can be heard on the floor. These initiatives show that taxpayers may have reason to be hopeful heading into the new Congress.
However, roadblocks remain. Recently-nominated Appropriations Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) rejected the idea floated by Reps. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Jack Kingston (R-GA) of incorporating an oversight subcommittee in the spending panel, which would have targeted wasteful outlays. In fact, nothing of that nature exists anywhere in the federal spending schema: committees who oversee budgeting and appropriations are responsible for overseeing dollars flow out the door, not for reversing the tide.
This bias towards higher spending and less oversight has aided the big government advocates who have presided over ballooning federal baselines over the past few years. Pragmatic, institutional changes are the only way to tamp down on this excessive growth — the inclination to spend is simply too great to overcome for lawmakers who lack the avenues to pursue prudence instead.
This is precisely why House and Senate leaders should establish a new committee that can stand in stark contrast to the other spending panels. A committee charged with “unappropriating,” rather than authorizing new spending, could provide tangible means for curing the spending epidemic in Washington.
This Anti-Appropriations Committee is a universally popular idea — millions of taxpayers represented by over forty-five different organizations called on Speaker-elect John Boehner yesterday to establish the committee for the 112th Congress. They have reason to be hopeful: the symptoms of this allergy to spending have already started to manifest on Capitol Hill. Incoming freshmen and ascendant lawmakers refused point-blank to take seats on the Appropriations Committee for the next Congress, concerned with the growing public unease regarding federal largesse.
The diminishing appeal of running the favor factory in the Appropriations Committee signals serious spending reform is possible, given the right resources. Channeling this anti-spending fervor into new committee responsibilities could net real savings for taxpayers — as it has done in the past.
First created in 1941 by Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. (D-VA), the Joint Committee on the Reduction of Nonessential Federal Expenditures focused exclusively on cutting wasteful and unnecessary spending. Known as the “Byrd Committee,” the panel existed until it was absorbed by the creation of the Congressional Budget Office in 1974, and was integral in eliminating some of the explosive big government growth that had been authored under the New Deal. Senator Byrd, who argued that spending cuts, rather than taxes, should pay for the costs of fighting World War II, recognized that fiscal watchdogs needed the same tools in their arsenals as the appropriators.
The Byrd Committee was responsible for eliminating the Works Projects Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, predecessors remarkably similar to the recent foray into job “stimulus” by government. Currently, the explosive government growth precipitated by “stimulus” programs and bailouts is baked into the baselines for government spending. Unless lawmakers are able to introduce targeted rescissions of this spending, it will beleaguer taxpayers for generations to come.
House Republicans are already positioned to champion such a cause — an Anti-Appropriations committee follows naturally from their YouCut program, which allows taxpayers to vote on targeted rescissions they wish to be introduced on the House floor. On the other side of the Capitol, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has already recommended cutting costs by targeting the ballooning public payroll, has introduced legislation to create an Anti-Appropriations Committee in the Senate.
Thus, the Anti-Appropriations Committee provides an important avenue for rejecting the Obama-Pelosi-Reid vision of the new spending normal. History has shown that lawmakers are poor multi-taskers; given the opportunity to tax and spend, rather than save and cut, the former will always prevail. That is why, especially on the heels of unprecedented government growth, it is inadequate to leave the cutting to the Appropriations and Budget Committees; they are simply too distracted by the glamour of spending to enact real restraint. This is also why the Byrd Committee was able to recommend over $38 billion (in 2010 dollars) in savings — given a mandate only to cut spending, legislators got to work. It is time our elected officials do the same.
Mattie Corrao is the government affairs manager at Americans for Tax Reform.