Politics & Policy

Speaking to the House

Advice to the new minority.

As the 110th Congress convenes, National Review Online asked a group of congressional experts to give the new minority some advice: How can the GOP show some constructive leadership during the Democrats’ first 100 legislative hours? Here’s their counsel.

Véronique de Rugy

The GOP could show constructive leadership by reforming the supplemental spending process. Though supplemental spending was kept under control throughout 1990s, the trend since 1998 has been a sharp increase in the amount of discretionary supplemental appropriations and a precipitous decline in offsetting rescissions. In 1998, supplemental spending amounted to $7 billion, while in 2005, it was $143 billion (in inflation-adjusted dollars). And in FY2006, over 17 percent of all new discretionary spending was spent through the supplemental process.

The increased reliance on supplemental spending is problematic because the lack of detail in supplemental budget requests — combined with their expedited approval process — leaves little room for congressional oversight. In addition, the reduced budget discipline for supplemental bills attracts earmarks and other projects that wouldn’t be funded on their own merits.

Further, supplemental appropriations designated as emergencies do not count against the annual budget limits set by Congress, and since the expiration of certain budget constraints in 2002, supplemental appropriations that exceed the limits no longer trigger automatic cuts. Consequently, supplemental bills, and emergency supplementals in particular, have become the tool of choice to evade annual budget limits and increase spending across the board. Funding the military — even predictable, non-emergency needs — through supplementals hides skyrocketing defense costs and allows Congress to boost regular appropriations for both defense and nondefense programs. Addressing the supplemental-spending shell game that Capitol Hill and the White House have been playing for years would save taxpayers roughly $100 billion per year. Some simple reforms such as clearly defining what constitute an emergency would achieve that goal. That would make it easier for the GOPs to try to make their tax cuts permanent.

 – Veronique de Rugy is a research scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

David McIntosh

Republicans can play a constructive role in the 110th Congress. First we must make it clear to the American people that Republicans heard their message in the last election and we are returning to our core principles of limited government. Republicans should embrace those parts of the Democratic majority’s agenda that support limited government — such as proposals to limit spending and balanced the budget. At the same time, we should boldly propose ideas to further reduce taxes and eliminate unnecessary and wasteful government spending. Third, Republicans be ready to vigorously oppose proposals that increase the size and scope of the federal government. Several ideas have surfaced — like new Superfund taxes, price controls on medicines, and regulating the Internet — that take away freedom from American citizens and undermine our free-market economy. Republicans should be prepared to stand tall in opposing these bad ideas and offering constructive, free-market alternatives.

Our leaders should make the Republican party once again “the party of ideas” based on conservative principles. Those of us not in government must do our part to support the Leadership when they take such action. By acting boldly and standing by our principles it will show that Republicans are once again ready to lead Congress.

 – David M. McIntosh, a former Republican congressman from Indiana, is a partner at Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Grover Norquist

For the next two years conservatives will not be able to pass any useful legislation through the House of Representatives. Memorize that sentence. Place it on your PC screensaver. Use it as your message on your answering machine. A discreet but easily accessed tattoo would be helpful.

All temptations to actually pass something lead to a conversation where the hard left of the Democrat party — the old bulls who are the Democrat leadership and committee chairmen — has a veto over anything. You can label the bottle. They will fill it.

Republicans in Congress need to use the first 100 days and the next two years to lose. Propose House rules that keep the present GOP requirement for a 3/5 vote to raise taxes. And lose. Propose House rules that term limit committee chairmen — the old GOP rule only applied to Republicans. And lose. Propose a tax cut. And lose. Heck, get denied an actual vote. Have a procedural vote. And lose. Propose an end to earmarks. And lose. Write welfare reform part three. And lose.

In November 2006 not enough voters saw a Republican congressional leadership they wanted to vote for and too few saw Democrat party leadership that scared them. The next two years is about changing both of those perceptions.

 – Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

John J. Pitney Jr.

House Republicans aren’t going to do much legislating. As the Washington Post has reported, Democrats are reneging on their promise to let the minority party play a full role in floor deliberations. The broken pledge should surprise no one: Democrats are merely picking up where they left off twelve years ago.

So what can the Republicans do? To the limited extent that they can offer amendments and alternatives, they should force the Democrats to show whether they are as “moderate” as the conventional wisdom has depicted them. A hike in the minimum wage will hurt small businesses, so see if they are willing to moderate their approach by buffering the impact with tax relief. “Pay-as-you-go” schemes invite evasion or tax increases, so propose tough spending restraint. Republicans might not be able to enact such measures, but they can bring the Democrats’ true positions into the sunlight that Speaker Pelosi likes to talk about.

 – John J. Pitney Jr. is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, Calif.

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