Thursday, January 18, 2007

Saving Taxpayer Money

In Which I Give Karl Rove & Rob Portman Free Advice

I was one of a number of bloggers who had the chance to participate in a conference call with Senator Jim DeMint this afternoon, to talk about earmark reform, the line-item veto, and related issues. (I forgot to ask him why he supports Mitt Romney, though - maybe next time).

It was a good conversation, and Mr. DeMint is clearly one of the leaders in the Senate on both Congressional reform and fiscal restraint. He recognizes that these are good politics and good policy.

It sounds as if Harry Reid has held his conference together to stifle debate on the legislative line-item veto. Instead of voting on it now, as part of ethics reform legislation, Mr. DeMint's amendment will will be considered as an amendment to the minimum wage bill coming down the pike. That will make it tougher to pass, as Democrats will label it extraneous material which doesn't belong on a minimum wage bill (conveniently ignoring that they were the ones who put it there).

Apart from the line-item veto, the Senator pointed out that Congress has yet to address the problem of earmarks added to conference agreements. This is an important point. If you patch 9 holes in a leaky raft and don't fix the 10th, you're still going to sink. In the same way, if Congress leaves itself just one way to insert anonymous earmarks into legislation, you can bet that's how it will be inserted.

And with regard to the LLIV (legislative line-item veto), I think one of the obstacles to enactment is that some people call it a gimmick, and assert that it won't reduce spending. I think there can be a fair debate on the question.

Cato's Stephen Moore is no slouch, and he concluded that when it was in place, it worked. He also suggested that if wielded properly by the President, the legislative line-item veto could save a great deal of taxpayer money. He further noted the 'deterrent effect' of the measure - implying that once Members of Congress see that the President is going to force them to defend egregious and wasteful spending, they would be less likely to propose it in the first place.

So how do you convince people that it will work? The President currently has the authority to propose rescissions, and Congress is free to vote on them or ignore them. With that in mind, the President ought to do precisely that: pick the worst pork-barrel earmarks he can find, and propose that Congress cancel the spending. And he ought to call a great deal of attention to the effort.

For the GOP, this is a no-lose proposition. It puts the Democratic Congress on the defensive - which is inherently a good thing. It puts the onus on them to cancel wasteful spending. If they do, everyone receives political credit. If they don't, then Democrats suffer a black eye and voters question their commitment to 'changing the culture.' It also builds support for the legislative line-item veto, and sets precedent for how it should be used.

The more attention this effort garners, the bigger the political payoff. And because more waste and higher dollar figures will mean more to the public, the President has an incentive to make rescission package a large one - relatively speaking.

Mr. Rove, Mr. Portman, Senator DeMint, Senator McConnell, Mr. Boehner -- this advice comes free of charge. But the next one will cost you.

Update: See also John Hawkins.

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