Thursday, March 17, 2005

Maybe a Real Budget

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial telling us that 25 Republican back-benchers stared down the leadership and got a clause in the budget that will allow them to force floor debate any time an appropriation exceeds the budget. Link. (subscription required)
(T)hey wanted some guarantee that the spending limits they approve at the beginning of the year -- which are announced with great fanfare -- will be enforced at the end when fewer Americans are watching.

That hasn't been the case for decades. The current Congressional budget process was designed by Democrats (and passed over a Watergate-weakened Richard Nixon's veto in 1974) expressly to disguise how much Congress spends. An annual budget resolution is passed each spring, but it lacks the force of law and the Members routinely exceed it when they pass individual spending bills. (...)

Enter the Revolutionary 25. They united to oppose this week's budget resolution unless they were allowed to file a "point of order" on the House floor if individual spending bills exceed their budget resolution limits. Congress could still spend the money, but it would require a floor debate and majority support.

"The rank-and-file believe it is important that Members of the majority have the power to enforce the budget of the majority," says Indiana's Mike Pence, one of the ringleaders. "We want a budget, not a mirage." Because the budget resolution is usually a party-line vote that all Democrats will oppose, these 25 Members could have defeated the resolution this week if they hung together.
It is difficult for a fiscal conservative to truly call himself a Republican, since most Republicans in Congress spend our money like drunken sailors, just with one drink less than a Democrat. When Republicans were in the minority, they constantly called for budget reform, but once they got the committee chairmanships, they dropped this issue like a hot potato. Enforcement of restraint is supposed to come from presidential vetoes or threats thereof, but we had none of that during the first Bush term. Thank G-d for the back-benchers. If they stick together when the appropriations come to the floor, we may just get some real restraint this year.


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