Re: Boehner: End Comprehensive Spending Bills

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Boehner’s idea sounds pretty similar to one I advocate (sub. req’d.) in the latest issue of NR:

[O]ne thing the new congressmen, and their friends in the tea parties, might be wise to do is to change the way Congress enacts spending legislation. It passes 13 big appropriations bills that fund all of the government except for the entitlement programs. This method of budgeting arguably works in favor of pro-spending interests.

For one thing, each spending program does not need to command majority support in the legislature to receive funding; it just has to be included in a bill that has majority support. And if the president wants more funds for one of his priorities, he can veto the entire bill — shutting down a portion of the government, including programs that most congressmen favor. The example of the Gingrich–Clinton standoff over the budget in 1995 and 1996 suggests that the political reaction to a shutdown works in the president’s favor.

If Congress broke up these big spending bills into many smaller ones, the balance of power would change. Congressmen would have less incentive to support bloated spending on one program to secure funding for their own programs. A fiscally conservative House majority could identify the lowest funding level that could attract 218 votes for each small spending bill. Or it could simply fail to include some programs in any appropriations bill, leaving Obama with no money to spend on those programs and nothing to veto. It might be possible to defund — or, rather, not fund in the first place — parts of Obamacare in this way.

Any such change to the budget rules would require overcoming the entrenched members of the appropriations committees, who tend to like the power to spend money that the current set-up gives them. It would also require wrenching change in the Senate, where considering more spending bills would, on present rules, take a lot of time. But 2011 might be the right time to move forward with such a reform — if, that is, Congress really is filled with new legislators who are not immersed in the old ways of doing business and are committed to the cause of cutting government.

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