A proposed House rule granting new powers to the GOP chairman of the Budget Committee has sparked outrage from Democrats.
The proposed rule would allow the Budget Committee chairman to set spending ceilings for 2011 without a vote by the full House. By approving the rules package, the House would give authority to the new Budget panel chairman to set budget ceilings at a later time and his decision would not be subject to an up-or-down vote on the floor.
In practice, this would give power to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the incoming chairman of the panel, to impose deep spending cuts since spending bills cannot exceed the budget ceiling for the 2011 fiscal year.
The House is set to vote on the rule soon after it convenes on Jan. 5.
Democrats argue the provision would give unilateral power to Ryan and flies in the face of GOP promises of transparency.
“Allowing incoming Chairman Ryan to have unilateral power to set spending limits — instead of subjecting those limits to a vote on the floor of the House — flies in the face of promises by House Republicans to have the most transparent and honest Congress in history,” said Doug Thornell, spokesman for incoming House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), in an e-mailed statement.
“Unfortunately, the House GOP is reverting back to the same arrogant governing style they implemented when they last held the majority and turned a surplus into a huge deficit,” he added.
Drew Hammill, spokesman for incoming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), also criticized the rule change. He said the decision to cede power to Ryan “runs counter to the Republicans’ promises of transparency and accountability.”
Republicans argue allowing the Budget chairman to set spending ceilings is necessary because of the failure of the last Congress to approve a budget last year.
“This provision is only necessary because of Democrats’ historic failure to pass a budget last year. They have nothing but their own ineptitude to blame for this temporary authority,” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the House Republican transition, said in response to the Van Hollen statement.
Where to start? How about the good news here: Setting an overall budget ceiling makes for a firm limit on spending, and it means House appropriators will have to make choices as they put together their 12 annual appropriations bills. They’ll either have to make reductions in all 12, or cut more deeply in some to make up for holding the line in others. House members will still have a say in how the money is spent; they’ll just have to fit the total amount of money within a pre-determined limit. What a concept.
Second, having a solid budget hawk like Paul Ryan in charge of setting that limit helps to make up for the assignment of the more spendthrift Hal Rogers to chair Appropriations. Now, Ryan just has to stand up to pressure from other Republicans who don’t want him to be quite so hawkish. After all, let’s not pretend that he will be working in a cone of silence, free from attempts by other members — Republicans and Democrats — to influence him. That said, the fact that Speaker-to-be John Boehner wants to reset spending at 2008 levels — a good start, if not a satisfactory goal — should help to bolster Ryan’s position.
Now, for the Democrats’ objections, which are so lame as to remind us why they lost power so sweepingly in the midterm elections.
The Van Hollen spokesman said the rule would contradict “promises by House Republicans to have the most transparent and honest Congress in history.” Really? What is not transparent or honest here? The rule will state that the Budget chairman will set the budget ceiling. We know who will be acting, and we know what he will be doing — setting a budget ceiling at a certain dollar amount. Is there any mystery here? Is there any obfuscation — you know, along the lines of waiting until after the election to cram those 12 appropriations bills into one “omnibus” package and pass it before other members and the public have had a chance to review it, as Democrats tried to do just last month? I didn’t think so.
As for this being the “same arrogant governing style [Republicans] implemented when they last held the majority and turned a surplus into a huge deficit,” that claim is refuted later in the Hill article:
Another House aide argued the powers are not unprecedented. The GOP gave the chairman of the House similar powers in the opening days of the 1999 Congress, when the GOP also controlled the chamber.
Let’s see…what happened with the budget in 1999? Oh, right — it was in surplus, not deficit.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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