Politics

How to Stop Congress from Overspending

| by Institute for Policy Innovation

Members of Congress say they are concerned about the exploding budget deficit, though not so concerned, it seems, to stop all the spending that's actually causing the deficit explosion--up to about 24.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

President Obama's solution has been to appoint, by executive order--because the Senate wouldn't pass it--a bipartisan group to explore what the government can do to reign in the spending. 

It's like an alcoholic convening a meeting of other heavy drinkers to discuss how the alcoholic can cut back on his drinking--and having the meeting at a bar at happy hour.

Of course, everyone knows the committee will recommend some minor spending cuts and some major tax increases. The tax increases would pass and the spending cuts would be postponed until later--because spendaholics don't really want to cut spending, they just want to say that they do.

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Now Reps. Mike Pence (R-IN) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) have stepped up to the plate with a better way. Call it an intervention.

They propose a constitutional amendment to cap government spending at 20 percent of GDP, which has been the historical average since World War II.  The cap could be ignored during war, and a two-thirds vote of Congress could override it.

Why they chose a constitutional amendment as opposed to legislation isn't clear, but probably because it is more permanent. Democrats pushed pay-as-you-go (or paygo) legislation only a month ago, requiring Congress to find offsets to pay for any new spending measures. And then promptly ignored their new paygo rule by spending $10 billion three weeks later without a "pay for" to offset the cost.

So even though a constitutional amendment would be very hard to pass, maybe it's the only way to get Congress to live by the rules it imposes on itself. 

Pence-Hensarling is about controlling government spending. It's simple and effective, which is why Congress and this administration will likely do whatever they can to dodge it. 

As they order another round for everyone--on the House.