The Republican House leadership's realization that it's going to have to keep its pledge to trim $100 billion from the federal budget is proof that elections can matter. The GOP's fiscal hawks, especially those who joined the ranks after November's electoral blowout, balked at attempts to pass off a $40 billion cut as sufficient.
"We promised the American people $100 billion in cuts and that is what we need to give them," freshman Rep. David Schweikert, Arizona Republican, told The Washington Times. "We are devastatingly broke and the only thing that will get us back on the track to fiscal responsibility and economic prosperity is if we cut more and spend less."
Of course, the last thing a congressional appropriator wants to do is spend less. The committee traditionally has used the public purse as a means of doling out favors to friends. So it's not surprising that the old guard resisted the full cut. It instead came up with a smaller figure reflecting the difference between a calendar year and a fiscal year. Rank-and-file members quickly realized they'd be hooted off the stage if they attempted to pass such a lame excuse past a Tea Party crowd.
Victory on the $100 billion showdown is mostly symbolic in a Congress on track to dole out $1,480 billion that the country doesn't have. Still, the responsiveness of the new House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Rep. Hal Rogers, is impressive. The Kentucky Republican issued a statement yesterday agreeing to produce a continuing resolution that trims back the president's 2011 spending request by $100 billion. The previous day's statement included a $74 billion figure. Not only is Mr. Rogers moving in the right direction, but his scalpel also has hit the Obama administration's soft underbelly, exposing significant waste.
For example, President Obama funneled $5.5 billion in so-called stimulus dollars on a General Services Administration (GSA) program to install squiggly lightbulbs and automatic faucets in washrooms at federal facilities nationwide. A border crossing station in North Dakota, for instance, blew $2.8 million placing a windmill on the roof. GSA will have to get by with $1.7 billion less under the committee's proposal.
Likewise, the Energy Department's loan guarantee program will lose $1.4 billion it would have used to subsidize so-called clean-energy projects. Tesla Motors received a $456 million guarantee to build a new plant, a massive subsidy to a company that makes a $100,000 sports car for Hollywood millionaires seeking to purge their carbon guilt. Another billion will be excised from high-speed rail. The vice president's $53 billion plan is just like Amtrak, only it will lose money faster and derail in more spectacular fashion.
These examples illustrate the overlapping goals of the administration's duplicative "green" pork programs that end up being administered by dozens of separate agencies. Yesterday, Rep. Jeff Duncan, South Carolina Republican, proposed to resurrect a World War II-era Committee on the Elimination of Nonessential Federal Programs, which would create expedited procedures for terminating redundant bureaucracies. Mr. Schweikert also introduced a balanced budget amendment in the House.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell isn't sure Congress has what it takes to follow through on that guarantee of reduced spending. He had a joint resolution introduced in the General Assembly yesterday that would call for a constitutional convention proposing a federal balanced budget amendment. The process requires two-thirds of the states, or majorities of two-thirds in both houses of Congress to agree to the proposal. It would then take effect upon ratification by 38 states.
Until such an amendment can pass, Republicans might need to use their debt-ceiling leverage to enforce spending discipline. The White House continues to act as if the era of big government need never come to an end. At least one political party seems to have gotten the message.
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