Portman Crafts a Spending Strategy

by Robert Costa

For months, Republicans have been pushing Senate Democrats to pass a budget as a prerequisite for a debt-limit increase. But Senator Rob Portman of Ohio says the “no budget, no pay” gambit is not enough. Moving forward, he says, Republicans “must force the president’s hand” on spending.

In a series of votes this afternoon, the Senate will consider two Portman-sponsored bills that attempt to do just that. The first bill would require Congress not to raise the debt limit “unless the legislation cuts the same amount of spending over the next decade.” Portman calls it the “Dollar-for-Dollar Deficit Reduction Act.”

“It’s a pretty simple concept,” Portman tells National Review Online. “Every American family understands that when you max out your credit card, you have to cut your spending.”

The second bill, called the “End Government Shutdowns Act,” is part of Portman’s broader strategy to combat President Obama’s complaints about Republican brinksmanship. Instead of being pressured by last-minute budget deals, he says Republicans should debate spending from a position of strength, and with a more stable timetable.

Portman’s shutdown-aversion bill would “automatically continue funding for discretionary programs whose budget has not been enacted by October 1.” This would nix the need for “continuing resolutions” to fund the government, but it would also institute mandatory spending cuts, every 90 days, should Congress fail to pass an appropriations bill.

“We’re all sick of finding surprises in the 1,000-page bills that come up during these cliffs,” Portman says. “This is a fiscally conservative approach and puts us on track to a balanced budget even if the parties can’t agree.”

With a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president, there is little chance that Portman’s bills will become law. But the senator says Republicans can’t sit back and let the president dictate the terms.

The precedent for Portman’s efforts goes back decades. In 1985, he recalls, Republicans were able to pass the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, which cut spending in conjunction with a debt-limit increase, and later passed several deficit-reduction bills in the 1990s.

Getting back to that routine, he says, rather than playing a deadline game, is critical.

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