Friday, December 15, 2006

Dem Rules & the Pelosi Rebound

Tom Maguire covers the announcement of the creation of a House Select Committee on Intelligence. The Hill covers the new Democratic rules package (which I also posted on below), and clarifies that this select panel is intended to satisfy the promise to implement all the recommendations of the 9/11 commission.

The Hill also explains more about the House rules and I must say, they look pretty good:

The rules would ban lobbyists "or organizations that employ them from planning, organizing, requesting, arranging or participating in travel for members or staff," according to the document. The new rules do make an allowance for a one-day trip to attend a forum, participate in a panel or give a speech.

Members would also be prohibited from using official or campaign funds to pay for non-commercial, corporate jets. But the provision does not apply to charter plane services, the document adds.

In addition, Democrats would prohibit holding open votes for the purpose of "affecting the outcome." Republican leaders famously kept open a vote on including drug coverage for Medicare for two hours and 15 minutes until they finally convinced enough members to vote for the package.

Budget reforms stipulated in the new rules include mandatory disclosure of all earmarks and the requirement that members certify that spouses do not directly benefit from the added project. Budget Reconciliations will not be considered if they reduce the budget surplus or increase the deficit.

Also included in the planned rules package is implementation of pay-as-you-go budget rules, requiring that new tax cuts or entitlement spending be offset with corresponding spending cuts.

I've argued that in the event earmarks are not banned, Members of Congress should be required to disclose whom they know who would benefit from the earmark. But that notwithstanding, this is pretty good.

The New York Times reports that the Democrats also plan to 'integrate war spending into the federal budget.' This has major ramifications and will make things much tougher on the Democrats:

In interviews, the incoming Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees said they would demand a better accounting of the war’s cost and move toward integrating the spending into the regular federal budget, a signal of their intention to use the Congressional power of the purse more assertively to influence the White House’s management of the war.

The lawmakers, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Representative John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, said the administration’s approach of paying for extended military operations and related activities through a series of emergency requests had inhibited Congressional scrutiny of the spending and obscured the true price of the war.

“They have been playing hide-the-ball,” Mr. Conrad said, “and that does not serve the Congress well nor the country well, and we are not going to continue that practice.”

Mr. Spratt, who along with Mr. Conrad is examining how the Democratic Congress should funnel the war spending requests through the House and Senate, said, “We need to have a better breakout of the costs — period.” He is planning hearings for early next year on the subject even as the White House readies a new request for $120 billion or more to pay for the war through Sept. 30, in addition to the more than $70 billion in emergency appropriations already spent this year.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spending on the military outside of the regular budget process, primarily for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has totaled more than $400 billion. For the 12 months ended Sept. 30, spending on the Iraq war alone ran at an average rate of $8 billion a month, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service.

The adoption of 'Pay-Go' will make it much harder to lower taxes or raise spending - since anything that increases the deficit must be offset elsewhere. Returning to a system where war spending is counted as part of the regular budget process means that Congress must automatically come up with $100-$200 billion in offsets, before any other new spending is considered. Even assuming that Democrats allow some tax cuts to expire after 2010, they will still need to find more revenues to allow any expansion of spending on their priorities.

And I would also add that Ms. Pelosi has had a good week or two: Democrats are suspending new earmarks for FY07, considering an independent ethics process, and creating a new House Intelligence panel that will allow them to claim victory on implementing the 9/11 recommendations. Those are all positive developments, and she has to receive some of the credit.

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