Monday, July 31, 2006

House GOP Pursues Fiscal Reform

Roll Call (subscription required) covers the 'victory' of moderate House Republicans in delaying House consideration of legislation by Rep. Todd Tiahrt to establish a commission to streamline the federal government:

‘Sunset’ Bill Pulled From Floor Schedule
July 31, 2006
By Jennifer Yachnin,
Roll Call Staff

Objections from moderate Republicans put passage of a key budget reform sought by conservative GOP lawmakers in limbo last week, prompting House leaders to shelve debate on the measure until after the August recess.

The Government Efficiency Act, authored by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), had been slated to go to the floor late last week but was scrubbed from the schedule Thursday afternoon. The bill would establish a federal commission to evaluate government-funded agencies or specific programs and issue recommendations to Congress on whether those bodies should be consolidated, abolished, expanded or otherwise altered.

...Among his proposed changes, Boehlert targeted the commission’s composition, which under the current legislation would include seven members appointed by the White House with four of those individuals selected in consultation with the majority and minority leadership of both the House and Senate.

The amendments would require all appointments to be made by Congress and would add two House Members and two Senators to the panel.

In addition, Boehlert, who chairs the Science Committee, called for the commission to hold public hearings.

Another amendment would extend the period for Congress to review recommendations from the commission to 45 legislative days from the 30 days proposed by Tiahrt.

Boehlert has also called for language that would allow Members to offer amendments to the commission’s proposals, something that would be permitted only in committee under the current bill.

...While the Rules Committee reviewed the measures Wednesday, it has yet to vote on parameters of debate for the measure, including what amendments Members would be allowed to consider on the floor.

Without a decision on whether those amendments will be included in the bill, one Republican aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: “Opposition has stayed quite strong from moderates and Democrats.”

...Despite the apparent setback, House conservatives expect the measure, as well as a broader proposal by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) to establish a sunset commission that would impose automatic expiration dates for federally funded programs, will return to the chamber’s calendar in the fall.

“We look forward to working with leadership to enact real budget process reform after the August district work period,” said one Republican aide to House conservatives.

The review commissions are among four budget reform measures — which also include earmark reforms, emergency spending guidelines and line-item veto legislation — that conservative Republicans demanded from House leadership during negotiations over the fiscal 2007 budget blueprint earlier this year...

I've argued for some time that it was not too late for House Republicans to focus more aggressively on controlling spending. I think that it might be too late now, because I fear voters are likely to view these as political opportunism. Had these procedural moves been paired with substantive victotries - substantive reductions in spending, or an actual line-item veto exercised by the President - voters might see them as more than politics.

Congressional leadership clearly disagrees; they probably feel it's more important that these measures be 'fresh in voters' minds' on election day. We'll see how they are received in the fall.

As for Boehlert's objections to the Tiahrt bill, I think that several of them are not worth fighting over. Public hearings, a 45-day waiting period... I don't think that either of those is likely to change significantly the way the commission would operate. Denying the administration the right to appoint members... that just strikes me as silly. Is Mr. Boehlert arguing that only the Congress has the expertise to take part in this process?

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