Posted on Monday, December 27, 2010
House Republicans have unveiled a proposed change in House rules that would create a “spending reduction” account to accompany each appropriations bill, the latest move by the GOP to show it’s serious about actually cutting spending next year.
The new mechanism would set aside in a “lock box” any spending that the House decides to cut, to ensure that money won’t simply be transferred to other federal accounts.
The change was actively pushed by conservatives on the Republican Study Committee and at the House Budget Committee, led by incoming chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). It was strongly opposed by GOP members of the Appropriations Committee.
Extensive discussions were held largely behind closed doors, with little public airing of the internal GOP divisions. But sources say the final agreement was widely backed by the rank-and-file and party leaders, including incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Highlights of other planned rules changes in the 33-page House resolution were released earlier.
“Most Republicans share the goal of enabling members to make budget savings from appropriations action,” said a senior House GOP aide who has worked on the rules changes. “The appropriators don’t want to change the equilibrium of how they do business. They are not happy with the change, but were willing to have the discussion.”
Many lawmakers have objected that they were unable to show lasting savings after the House had voted to cut spending. The appropriators, on the other hand, have objected to steps that would reduce the overall pot of money that they are provided annually in the congressional budget process.
“This looks interesting, but we're not sure how this will work in practice,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a leader of the House’s budget hawks and a newly selected member of the Appropriations Committee. “We want to be sure that the provisions maintain the ability to offer amendments to strike or lower the amount of specific spending items and actually lead to a reduction in spending in the appropriations process. It may be moving in the right direction, but we have several concerns and want more details.”
Flake, who wants to restrict how the new device is used and said that he was not part of the discussions on the new rule, added that all rules are “only as good as the leadership's willingness to enforce them.”
The appropriators, led by incoming chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), reportedly view the new rule as a compromise and are okay with the change. “It will allow members to go to the floor and offer spending reductions, and also give the committee flexibility to apply the savings in a practical way,” said a GOP insider familiar with their views.
According to the proposed rule, the account would be “a recitation of the amount by which, through the amendment process, the House has reduced spending in other portions of the bill and indicated that such savings should be counted towards spending reduction.”
Under the proposal, spending cuts would be placed into a separate account that would not be available for subsequent spending by the House. The rule would permit the sponsor of the cut to allocate the money for other purposes. But another member would not be able to use that savings to support additional spending.
Boehner and incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor believe that the new device “will reflect the cumulative value of the amendments that were adopted to reduce spending elsewhere in the [appropriations] bill and credit the ‘spending reduction’ account,” according to a GOP summary of the action.
“The reforms included in this package provide the House with new tools to achieve the goal of reining in out-of-control spending in Washington,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for the House GOP transition task force. “The new spending reduction account allows members to explicitly dedicate savings from an amendment to spending reduction — something that under current House rules can only be done rhetorically.”
The new rule is subject to further debate when the Republican Conference meets on Jan. 4 to complete the House rules package before the new Congress convenes the next day. Traditionally, the opening-day rules package has been prepared by the majority party, and is not subject to amendment on the House floor.
The “spending reduction” device is one of several steps that the new House majority has taken to show that they are serious about cutting federal spending, as they pledged during this year’s campaign. In addition, they have changed GOP Conference rules to bar new spending earmarks. And, they plan to return the House to robust debate of appropriations bills, with a rule that will allow unlimited amendments — at the start, at least.
By: Richard E. Cohen Politico