Thursday, June 4, 2009

Getting something done

This is going to be one of those "boring" posts that have a lot to do with Congress and the president and legislation and spending and all that. But trust me, it's important.

Republicans in Congress are an endangered species. They know they need to shake the label of the "Party of No" if they're going to survive. (Personally, I've never felt that saying "no" was necessarily a bad thing, but that could hardly matter less.) Anyway, aside from efforts to connect more personally with voters during the spring, they're also doing their jobs. Thank goodness, too, because the only way they're going to save their party is by saving or helping to save the country. In addition to the alternatives they offered to the stimulus bill, the omnibus spending bill, and the budget, House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor have sent a proposal to President Obama for a series of government programs where spending could be reduced, streamlined, or eliminated altogether.

Last April, in response to the massive amounts of money appropriated in various pieces of legislation, Rep. Cantor requested that the president direct his Cabinet secretaries to find $100 million in savings to help relieve the burden to taxpayers. The president did so, but asked that House Republicans also look for savings. Today, the GOP has presented a list of recommendations that could save a combined $375 billion (yes, with a "b"). The full list can be read here.

The list is twenty pages long, and has over forty specific proposals. I've read it, and I encourage all of you to, as well; but for those who prefer not to spend their evenings combing through proposed legislation (i.e. "normal people"), I've included some of my personal favorites.

Common Sense Spending Limits

While Congress and the President both agree that so-called "discretionary" government spending is always assumed to rise from one year to the next, it seems like they should have put a cap on those spending increases a long time ago. Republicans would prefer to freeze all spending increases, but the proposal is to limit the increases so that they don't grow faster than inflation does. In theory, this could save $317 billion over five years all by itself.

But they're not through yet.

Require New Programs To Be Paid For

Something that has always bothered me about Congress (for as long as I've ever thought about it, anyway) is that, since they control the budget and taxes, they can basically add as many programs to the budget they want and raise taxes as high as they need to in order to pay for it. You'd think that the threat of getting voted out of office would impose a certain amount of restraint, but I think we all know that it doesn't. Democrats and Republicans alike just keep adding programs and raising the price tag.

What about a new way to enforce a little discipline? This part of the proposal requires that, for every new program Congress wants to add, it has to reduce or eliminate funding for another one. This not only keeps spending at a consistent level, it demonstrates priorities. Which programs are most important to the government? How far does it really want to extend its reach? And how will they defend these actions to the voters? The exact wording of the proposal is "The merit of every new proposal ought to be judged based on whether it is more important than something the government is already doing." Good advice.

Opportunity To Review Legislation

This, it should be obvious, is where Congress is required to enforce a mandatory review period, in this case 72 hours, before passing any legislation. I don't have to tell anyone how important it is that members of Congress actually read legislation before they pass it. I'm sure most people remember the huge AIG bonus scandal when Congress passed a $787 billion dollar stimulus bill, the final version of which not one senator or representative actually read all the way through. From the time the final 1,100-page bill was drafted to the time it was passed was less than a day. Whether you're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars or free snail mail privileges, the government should be required to pay attention to their jobs.

Most of the rest of the proposal deals with specific government programs; reforming certain practices to be more cost-effective; enforcing eligibility requirements for certain entitlements; and so forth. Some of the cuts and reductions won't be very popular, on either side of the political aisle, but we're in a serious bind. The country is going bankrupt. Everyone, everywhere is trying to deal with this problem. If you think the proposals the Republicans are making will help, then write to as many people in Washington as you can telling them to support their plan. If you think the proposals will hurt, then say that instead. But this is the budget; the government's lifeline; one of those things that touches every single one of us eventually, so whatever you do, do not ignore it.

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