Government has rigged the game so that it can always grow larger year after year. House conservatives are pushing legislation that would undo the built-in advantage that expansionists depend on when budget season rolls around. Washington can’t be allowed to cook the books any longer.
Rep. Louie Gohmert says this could be the year for change. “There is no family and no business in America whose budget automatically increases every year,” Mr. Gohmert told The Washington Times. “Washington thinks a ‘cut’ is a decrease in an expected increase but normal people think a ‘cut’ means spending less this year than you did last year.” He explained that legislation he has introduced would provide “a realistic system. If we cut, it’s a real cut. And if they want an increase to a program, by golly, they better come in and justify it.”
The Texas Republican’s Zero-Baseline Budget Act eliminates the automatic increase to discretionary spending that has been in place since 1974. Currently, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assumes discretionary spending goes up every year by an amount based on inflation and other factors, generally from 2.9 percent to as high as 5 percent. When the White House and Congress submit their budgets, the baseline includes the baked-in increase from CBO. Zero baseline budgeting means that government programs would start at the same funding level they had the previous year.
In the House, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, is on board and his committee will hold a vote before year’s end. Mr. Gohmert says Speaker John A. Boehner gave his word that the bill will have a floor vote once it gets voted out of committee.
Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, is working to gather support. “The whole system is currently structured on a pro-spending bias,” he told The Washington Times. “We can’t tinker around the edges, we need fundamental, bold changes to be made in budgets in Washington.” The Ohio Republican said the public has “an anxiousness and weariness about the future of our country. We need to fix things very quickly.”
Mr. Jordan believes beyond this reform, a Balanced Budget Amendment is key to solving the debt crisis. “Louie has a great beginning, but ultimately we want what Gov. Chris Christie has done.” The New Jersey Republican chief executive introduced zero baseline budgeting to the Garden State this year, ending autopilot spending hikes. He went further by crafting a budget for fiscal 2012 from scratch, looking at the revenue available and then funding programs based on priorities. He told the Democratic legislature: “You fund what you need – this year – to succeed, not every relic from two decades ago that is still on the books.”
The American people spoke clearly last November. Inspired by the Tea Party, voters sent conservative Republicans to the Capitol with the mission of stopping the Obama administration’s runaway spending. With another election on the horizon, Republicans need to show they have done something to upset the status quo. That means adopting honest, common-sense budgetary reform that will make it harder for politicians to get away with spending more when the country has less.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.