Spineless wonders on Capitol Hill

The good news is that members of the 110th Congress introduced more cost-cutting bills this year than during any previous August recess. Unfortunately, they’re vastly outnumbered by bills that increase federal spending.

Which is why the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, which has been keeping tabs on Washington’s spending sprees since 1991, doesn’t anticipate any return to frugality this year despite the Democratic leadership’s promise to restore “fiscal discipline” after 12 years of Republican rule. Members of Congress would have to say “no” to 30 spending bills for each budget-cutting one they voted for, and the odds of that happening are not good.

Spending has turned into an incumbent insurance policy, so changing the culture on Capitol Hill at this point would probably require mass hypnosis. According to the NTU, which tracks every congressional vote that affects taxpayers, GOP members averaged 75 percent taxpayer-friendly votes in the Senate, and just 60 percent in the House when they were in the majority. The average for Senate Democrats was an anemic 48 percent; 39 percent for House Democrats.

So don’t read their lips. Expect larger deficits — and higher taxes — before the current session adjourns. Likely targets for increasing revenue are taxing the Internet and federal gas levies, both of which would hurt almost every individual and business in America.

As the NTU’s bill tally demonstrates, neither Republicans nor Democrats have demonstrated the discipline needed to curtail spending and exercise real fiscal restraint. The authorization process has become a three-ring political circus of gimme, gimme, gimme — with little or no oversight over the billions of dollars that have already been spent.

Those who object to paying more taxes will once again be challenged to “tell us which programs to cut.” How about the $7 billion raised annually by taxing long-distance phone service? The Universal Service Fund is supposed to provide phone service to 3 million people who live in remote rural areas, but a 2006 study by George Mason professor Thomas Hazlett found that the government is paying as much as $13,345 per line. “It would be cheaper to purchase a $3,000 solar-powered, self-contained satellite phone booth for each residential unit,” Hazlett noted. That would cost $90 million, saving taxpayers $6.1 billion with no harm to the program’s intended beneficiaries.

After eliminating earmarks, subsidies to big business and programs that do not perform as expected or that duplicate other efforts, Congress might even be able to do something about the looming entitlement crisis. But it won’t find ways to save if it doesn’t look for them.

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