- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2011

Since November’s election, the tide against government spending has become a tidal wave. Nationwide, that rising sentiment has been obvious for some time, but now it is cresting up to Capitol Hill itself. The most compelling evidence of this does not come from appointed commissions, official estimators or even ivory-tower think tanks. It came in a seemingly innocuous vote on the Senate floor late last year.

In the health care reform bill, there is a much-maligned provision requiring businesses to file reports to the Internal Revenue Service whenever they pay more than $600 per year to a single business. Such a small threshold amount would lead to numerous additional filings - an onerous record-keeping burden on any employer, but particularly small ones - as well as about $20 billion in new revenue over 10 years.

Outcry against this reporting provision has been loud from the beginning, and Congress is unified in the need for repeal. The question is not if, but how - last year’s waning days presented little time and less opportunity. The Senate thought it had found such a rare opportunity at the end of November. However, because of the Senate’s procedural rules, that opportunity required 67 votes for repeal - far more than a simple majority.

Because of the high vote hurdle, no one expected a successful repeal. In that, they were right. However, even fewer suspected that in such an arcane and innocuous undertaking, a clear window on the deteriorating perception of federal spending would be opened.

Two competing proposals to repeal the health care law’s reporting requirement were offered. One simply would have repealed the provision. The other not only would have repealed the provision but would have paid for it twice over - raising $39 billion by eliminating non-defense spending. The first proposal garnered 44 votes. The second gained an astounding 61 votes.

The importance of 60 votes in the U.S. Senate has been ingrained indelibly during the filibusters of the past two years. It is a magic, rarely attained number. Yet this proposal already has topped it. Even its 61-vote total does not fully tell the tale of how strong a vote against government spending this was.

This vote took place in last year’s lame-duck Senate - a Senate still with an overwhelming Democratic majority. To reach those 61 votes, this anti-spending proposal attracted 21 Democrats to vote for it. Of those 21, all but three returned this year. Republicans won the seats of all three who did not return. Of the 35 who voted against the proposal, three did not return this year - and Republicans picked up two of their seats. Finally, four senators did not vote on the proposal - of those, two were Republicans.

Because every Republican voted for the provision with the spending cut, it is safe to assume that the new and the absent Republicans also would have voted for such a provision. Adding in these likely votes, this provision would have 65 votes for it in this year’s Senate - a tremendous core of anti-spending support.

It is hard to argue that the vote on this provision is somehow misconstrued as anti-spending. Both proposals would have repealed the reporting requirement; the difference between them was that one would cut spending by twice the amount of the repeal’s cost and the other would not cut spending at all. The one that literally doubled down against federal spending achieved 17 more votes than the one that did not.

This overlooked outcome is a clear signal that cutting federal spending is quickly becoming a nonpartisan issue. Such across-the-spectrum support is reflected in recent polls. AUSA Today/Gallup poll surveying 1,037 adults in November gauged support of President Obama’s handling of three domestic issues - the economy, taxes and the deficit. While Mr. Obama was “underwater” on the economy - with a 35 percent-63 percent approval-disapproval rating - he was even more so on the deficit - 32-64 percent.

Federal spending and its resulting deficit have emerged as the most potent issues in American politics - eclipsing even the weak economy.

In just one month, a dramatic change had begun to settle on Washington. That was even before Congress‘ new members settled in. Call it the new “Frugal Majority.”

J.T. Young served in the Department of Treasury, the Office of Management and Budget and as a congressional staff member.