Obama Requests Tool for the Wrong Job

President Obama has proposed to Congress "a new, expedited tool to reduce unnecessary or wasteful spending," lining up on the side of so-called fiscal conservatives to enhance the Executive's ability to force Congress to vote on measures that cut federal spending.

I think I would be more enthusiastic about this "tool" if it were not forged from the mistaken belief that cutting spending is identical to fiscal responsibility. In fact, it's this delusion that has left the nation ill-prepared to deal with cataclysmic oil spills, keeps vulnerable families out of affordable housing, and lets millions of children go to bed hungry every night.

CQ Politics:

The Obama administration is requesting what is known as “enhanced rescission authority.” In essence, it’s an attempt to strike a balance between current budget procedures and the line-item veto power that Congress gave President Bill Clinton in 1996. In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled the line-item veto unconstitutional.

Under Obama’s plan the president would have 45 working days after a bill is enacted to send Congress a package of funding the administration wants cut or rescinded.

The legislation would require Congress to vote on that package of spending cuts within 25 working days. It would have to be an up-or-down vote with no amendments, and the House would vote first.

The idea has the most traction with conservatives and opponents of earmarks, but the opposition has not been primarily ideological — members of both parties, particularly on the Appropriations panels, oppose the proposal on institutional grounds, considering budget and spending decisions a congressional prerogative.

I get that Congress sometimes approves what some consider "unnecessary and wasteful" spending, but this new authority is only going to further expose Americans to the whims of an economy that, in the best of times, produces scant gains for the middle class, while making barely teensy progress in slowing the growth of the federal budget deficit.

But I also get that Congress also approves nonsensical tax provisions. At the top of that list is the carried interest loophole that allows hedge fund managers' income to be taxed at the capital gains rate of 15 percent instead of at the individual income tax rate that everybody else pays. Congress has been eyeing this loophole for years, but never quite manages to get around to closing it.

If spending is the problem, this proposal might get the job done, but unless Congress also gives the president the ability to force up-or-down votes on increasing revenues, the federal budget will remain unencumbered by fiscal responsibility.

Image by Flickr user Joey DeVilla used under a Creative Commons license.

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