One of the biggest errors of the last Republican congress was its failure to consider a sufficient level of reform to congressional spending processes. The topic may seem dreadfully boring at first but its significance is great when you realize to what degree the appropriations process has been stacked in favor of spending enablers and against those trying to put federal spending on a long-deferred diet.
While they’ve not focused rhetorically much on issues like immigration or reforming the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid behemoths, would-be House speaker John Boehner has gotten one thing right: the importance of changing the spending culture by changing the rules that enable it. The Wall Street Journal has a great editorial today on how Boehner’s efforts on this score deserve credit from limited government advocates:
Most intriguingly, Mr. Boehner suggested that “we ought to start at square one and give serious consideration to revisiting, and perhaps rewriting, the 1974 Budget Act.” Now he’s getting somewhere. That law, passed over the veto of a Watergate-weakened Richard Nixon, further rigged the budget process to abet spending. It killed the President’s impoundment power not to spend money, and it established the annual “budget baseline” that makes spending increases automatic. Thus even a reduction in the amount of spending increase in a program becomes a budget “cut” that special interests can attack. Mr. Boehner should consult Budget ranking Member Paul Ryan and former Member Chris Cox for reform ideas.
The larger insight here is that Democrats have organized Congress and written its rules to aid and abet their policy priorities. During their last time in the majority, Republicans didn’t do enough to rewrite those rules to assist their ostensible goal of limiting government power and reducing spending and taxes. They shouldn’t make the same mistake again.
In addition to rewriting the Budget Act, Republicans need to assert control over the scoring conventions at the Congressional Budget Office that typically underestimate spending—see ObamaCare. Ditto for the rules at the Joint Tax Committee that underestimate the impact of tax changes on taxpayer behavior and economic growth.
One hopes Boehner et al. will consider that last line. Making reforms to both the JCT and CBO may make normal people’s eyes glaze over but such reforms are likely to do far more good than rattling off bills that President Obama will veto. And it’s a lot more readily accomplished, too. Reforming congressional spending processes is entirely within the power of the congress and can’t be overridden by Obama.