In November, 2004, Free Congress Foundation’s Center for a Balanced Future issued a monograph titled Controlling Federal Spending: Three Modest Proposals. Those three proposals were:
Require audits of all government departments, including the Department of Defense, based on standard business practices. Each department would have to develop an audited financial statement no different from the one it would submit annually if it were a private corporation.
For each federal government department, create a permanent board, made up of volunteer businessmen, whose charter would be to search out and identify waste, fraud and abuse. Each year, the board would submit to Congress a list of programs to be terminated as wasteful, and Congress would have to vote up-or-down on the list as a whole, without amendment. This is similar to the Base Closing Commission model.
Give every government department independent auditors, whose careers would not be controlled by the department and who would report to the board of volunteer overseers.
Meanwhile, the problem of excessive federal spending continues to grow. Following President George W. Bush’s submission of this year’s budget to Congress, the National Taxpayers’ Union said in a letter to the Chairmen of the Senate and House Budget Committees,
OMB estimates that total FY 2005 outlays will be a stunning 33 percent higher than outlays in FY 2001. So while 3.6 percent growth in FY 2006 (the President’s proposal) would represent the smallest growth in spending since the Clinton years . . . . it would still leave outlays 38 percent higher than in FY 2001.
Wisely, the NTU urges the Budget Committees “to treat the President’s budget as a ceiling rather than a floor.”
The question is, how is that to be accomplished? Here, the “Blue Dog” Democrats have come to the fore with some proposals to control spending that conservatives should endorse. The Blue Dog Coalition of 37 conservative and moderate Democrats in the House of Representatives says of itself that, “A top priority will be to refocus Congress on truly balancing the budget and ridding taxpayers of the burden the national debt places on them.” That is entirely in line with the recommendations and objectives of Free Congress Foundation’s Center for a Balanced Future.
Of the twelve points in the Blue Dog Coalition’s “Reform Plan for Restoring Fiscal Sanity” three are of particular merit. Proposal number four, to “Require agencies to put their fiscal houses in order,” mirrors Free Congress Foundation’s call for independent audits of all federal government departments. The Blue Dog’s proposal notes that:
According to the Government Accountability Office, 16 of 23 major federal agencies can’t issue a simple audit of their books.
Worse, the federal government can’t account for $24.5 billion it spent in 2003.
Government auditors should be doing a better job of tracking taxpayer dollars.
Blue Dogs propose a budget freeze for any federal agency that can’t properly balance its books.
Free Congress Foundation believes the Blue Dogs are right on the scent with this analysis, and with the proposal that the budget of any department that cannot pass an audit be frozen.
Two other Blue Dog proposals fit well into the agenda for cutting government waste, fraud and abuse that we have advocated. They are proposal number five, “Make Congress tell taxpayers how much they are spending,” which would require a roll call vote on any bill that calls for more than $50 million in new spending, and proposal number ten, “Require honest cost estimates for every bill that Congress votes on,” which mandates that every conference report and bill that comes to the floor of the House be accompanied by a cost estimate prepared by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The erroneous (and possibly dishonest) underestimates of the cost of the Medicare prescription bill enacted by the last Congress show the importance of this step.
In our view these are measures conservatives can and should endorse. As the Heritage Foundation has said, “The Blue Dogs deserve credit for putting out a strong, serious proposal to restrain runaway spending. Taken together with the Republican Study Committee’s similar proposal and Administration initiatives, this proposal represents a growing bipartisan consensus that sanity must and can be restored to the federal budget process.”
We applaud the Blue Dog Democrats for taking the lead on a vital issue, controlling federal spending. Hopefully, their proposals, along with those previously made by the Free Congress Foundation, can move us back toward the fiscal prudence for which conservatives traditionally have stood.