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MILLER: The endangered balanced budget
Reforming the spending process would help the fiscal hawks rein in the debt
Washington hasn’t seriously uttered the words “balanced budget” in years. Lawmakers now focus on trimming the budget deficit, which has soared to $1.3 trillion under President Obama. Real spending cuts and entitlement reform are the only way out of this fiscal mess, but the current budget process is broken.
The administration was supposed to have sent its budget to Congress by Monday, but Mr. Obama is holding off on fulfilling his legal duty until next week. Perhaps he is put off by the chilly reception his spending plan received last year - even the Democratic-controlled Senate couldn’t muster a single vote of support. The upper chamber hasn’t produced a budget in three years and likely won’t again this year.
Last year, the Republican House adopted a strong budget crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, but opposition from Mr. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, kept it from becoming law. Thus, Washington has stopped working off a budget. Instead, it just spends what it wants, borrowing to make up the shortfall.
The House will vote this week on two key reforms meant to fix the spending problem. Mr. Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, joined with the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, on a line-item veto bill giving the president the power to force Congress to hold an up-or-down vote on up to two wasteful spending items in an appropriations bill. While Mr. Obama would likely use such power to get rid of conservative funding priorities, at least the money saved would be used for deficit reduction; it could not be spent elsewhere.
Another proposal would give taxpayers a more honest accounting of their money. Currently, the cost of keeping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac afloat is kept off the books. The bill would bring the government housing loan entities on-budget so the public knows their true cost. Also, the legislation would require the government to use the same “fair value” accounting as the private sector to calculate the interest rates for borrowing and lending.
The House passed a pair of related reforms last week. The first struck at the practice of automatically boosting spending every year to supposedly account for inflation and population growth. If enacted, it would require every department and agency to start with the same amount as the previous year and justify any increase.
The other House-passed bill would change the way the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports the budgetary impact of major legislation. Instead of just giving the impact on the deficit, CBO would provide the estimated changes in economic output, employment and tax revenue. This clearer picture might have helped blunt the arguments in favor of budget-busters like Obamacare and the stimulus package.
All of these common-sense reforms are likely to be blocked by Mr. Reid, and that is a shame. Even Mr. Obama supports the line-item veto. While budgetary process reforms alone aren’t enough, clearing away some of the smoke and mirrors will lend itself to a more honest debate. Politicians won’t be able to hide behind gimmicks to avoid tackling the rapidly growing $15.4 trillion mountain of debt.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Emily Miller is senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times. She is the author of “Emily Gets Her Gun … But Obama Wants to Take Yours” (Regnery 2013). Miller won the 2012 Clark Mollenhoff Award for Investigative Reporting from the Institute on Political Journalism.
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