January 10, 2005 | WebMemo on Federal Budget
Saying "No" to Spending Controls
In a closed meeting early last week, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives quietly kicked off the new legislative session by making it more likely that government will continue to grow rapidly. Despite promises to control the growth in federal spending and to fix the budget process, the newly strengthened House Republican conference soundly rejected a series of proposed procedural rules, sponsored largely by conservatives, that would have made it more difficult for spending increases to pass the House. The full House passed its new rules-absent additional spending controls-the next day in a party-line vote.
Rejecting rules to rein in spending is not just a slap in the face for supporters of spending control and conservative principles; it will now also be politically and technically harder for the House to support the President's promise to limit spending. Republican lawmakers often and correctly blame the chamber's rules for out-of-control spending because the rules make it hard to avoid an increase in spending when one party holds only a slender majority, even when those increases run counter to the majority's wishes. But the rules of the legislative game are not immutable. Every two years, the House of Representatives adopts a new set of rules that govern its operations and legislative process. The majority party essentially can write these as it pleases.
This year, the conservative Republican Study Committee and other members committed to fiscal discipline proposed eight important rule changes that would have reformed the budget process to make it more difficult to expand entitlements and other spending. None of these rules passed the Republican conference. None came even close to a majority-and these are the Republicans, who are ostensibly committed to limited government. Voting down tools that would restrain spending makes it increasingly difficult to take most House Republicans seriously when they talk about spending restraint.
Are They Serious?
Can the House Republicans be considered serious about spending restraint when they-
What Were They Thinking?
After the election, hopes were high that a re-elected President and expanded Republican majorities in the House and Senate would be able to bring about a return to the conservative principle of fiscal discipline. Indeed, House Republicans promised that they would bolster their efforts to rein in spending. But throwing out all of these proposed rules makes it more difficult to accomplish this stated aim. Whatever the political calculus involved, rejecting rules that would make irresponsible spending more difficult is self-defeating. One can only wonder what many of these same members would have said had a Democrat-controlled House voted down similar rules. Americans concerned about controlling the size of government can only hope that the members who sponsored the rejected rule changes will continue to press for stronger budget controls and will eventually prevail.
Alison Acosta Fraser is the Director of, and Keith Miller is a Research Assistant in, the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.