Ever since William J. Clinton left office and George W. Bush became President Republicans never met a spending program with which they disagreed. From the time Republicans took control of Congress, following the 1994 election, through the Clinton years, the Republican Congress provided the brakes which caused Clinton to be a fiscally responsible President. The only two years when we actually had a surplus came during that period. But wait a minute here. After the 2002 elections Republicans had clear control of the House, the Senate and the White House. That had not happened since Dwight D. Eisenhower won in a landslide in the 1952 elections. Wow! Republican control of both Houses of Congress was strengthened following the 2004 Presidential contest. So another two years of spend, spend, spend. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration, the Presidency which has yet to veto a single bill passed by Congress, did turn itself inside out for tax cuts. Many expire soon unless Congress does something. Contrary to intuition, the tax cuts produced substantially more revenue to the Treasury than before they were enacted. If Congress had not turned on the spending spigot we would be running a healthy surplus.
The profligate spending by the Republican Congress, without a veto from the President, has become a campaign issue. The President’s own party is, for the most part, disgusted by what it sees.
Into this situation has stepped Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. He has put forth several proposals to remedy the situation. Senator Gregg introduced the SOS bill, which stands for Stop Over-Spending. “Despite dramatic increases in tax revenue triggered by Republican pro-growth economic policies, out of control spending on both the discretionary and mandatory sides of the ledger threatens our economic well being and that of our children and grandchildren,” Senator Gregg told his fellow Republicans in a “Dear Colleague” letter. Gregg says his proposal is building on the line-item veto proposal the President has put together which the White House believes would meet the Constitutional test. The previous line item veto was struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States. The case was brought to the high court by Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV). Gregg believes the current situation is untenable. “The process is broken. There are too many gimmicks. And too much wasteful spending, and we are leaving the bill to be paid by future generations.” New Hampshire’s senior Senator believes that most of the measures used by previous Congresses to control spending have lapsed therefore it is time to take a fresh look at the situation.
The Gregg proposal, in addition to the new line-item veto, would create a new Gramm-Rudman-Hollings type measure to balance the budged by 2012. This measure automatically would slow the rate of growth of mandatory programs if Congress failed to meet deficit reduction targets.
Next, it would re-instate statutory caps on discretionary spending (and the use of the all too convenient and burgeoning emergency spending), enforceable by an across-the-board sequester if Congress failed to adhere to caps.
It would authorize a point of order against direct spending triggered when the Medicare program is projected to become insolvent in seven years or less. Senator Gregg points out that our aging population and higher health care costs have caused Medicare to be the first of the large entitlements projected to go insolvent.
Finally, it would create two bi-partisan Commissions. The first would look at the efficiency and accountability of Federal Government programs in a manner similar to Base Realignment and Closure (“BRAC”). The base closing Commission puts items on the table. The President gets the chance to pick and choose. Then they go to Congress. Most are voted to be closed. Before BRAC you could never close a base because Members protected each other. The same would apply to Federal programs. This is a concept which the Free Congress Foundation and its sister organization Coalitions for America have pushed for several years. The bill to accomplish that has been introduced by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-KS). We commend Senator Gregg for picking up on what we feel is a concept which actually would work.
The Commission proposed by Senator Gregg, by the way, would provide solutions to the impending entitlement crisis. The bill taken as a whole is tough medicine and contains some items about which Senator Gregg never has been personally enthused. Nevertheless, he should be commended for biting the bullet. Majority Leader William H. Frist, M.D. (R-TN), commonly known as Senator Bill Frist, has not yet announced whether these measures will be voted on individually or as a package. There is a chance that they won’t be voted on this year at all.
Given the slowness of the legislative process it would have been more helpful had this reform package had been introduced at the beginning of the 109th Congress rather than near its end. It is surely better late that never. Democrats have actually managed to become in the eyes of the voting public more fiscally responsible of late. This reform measure if debated for several days in the Senate has the chance, at least, to reverse that perception.