With the national debt now topping $14 trillion, up from $13 trillion just seven months ago, and a Gallup poll revealing the outgoing Democratic Congress to have among the lowest average approval ratings recorded in the last two decades, it is a great relief to hear that incoming House Republicans are planning to cut funding of their legislative offices by 5 percent. They are also cutting the House Appropriations Committee budget by 9 percent. Both actions are part of new House Speaker John A. Boehner's commitment to reduce $35 million from Congress's very own administrative budget.
All this comes in addition to the GOP's ban on federal earmarks and an overall reduction in the number of House appropriators from 60 committee members to 50. A good start, as they say.
But there is more. The House Republicans are going to enact new rules "to make it harder to tax and spend," writes the Wall Street Journal editorial page. The GOP will, among other things, replace the Democrats' often ignored "paygo" approach with a "cut as you go" requirement in which increases in mandatory spending -- for new and existing entitlements -- must be matched by spending cuts in an equal or greater amount elsewhere in the budget.
Another encouraging aspect of the new rules package is the empowerment of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new Budget Committee Chairman, the point on budget reform, to impose budget limits, on his own, for the current fiscal year.
Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues did not pass a budget resolution last year, thereby failing to give House Appropriators any spending targets. Thus, Chairman Ryan's authority is only temporary, ending once a new budget resolution is finally passed by the new Congress.
Ryan notes that this authority was previously granted to the Budget Chairman in the late 1990s.
While conceding that the current "deep fiscal hole is the result of bipartisan failure over the years," Ryan observes that the last two consecutive years have seen trillion dollar deficits with the Democrats not even proposing a budget for the current fiscal year -- "the first time this has happened since 1974, when the modern congressional budget process was established."
It should be recalled that Paul Ryan is the only legislator in either the House or Senate who has proposed a comprehensive package to reform entitlements, taxes and health care simultaneously.
Ryan says "we will clean up the fiscal wreckage left by the House Democrats, setting spending limits for the remainder of FY 2011 at pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels for non-security discretionary spending." That is to say he intends to return spending to 2008 levels which is considerably more ambitious than simply making "a good start."
A House GOP aide has commented to me that "the Federal government is operating with no budget, no priorities, and no restraints."
"House Republicans intend to follow through on their pledge to restore limits to the explosive growth of government, and advance a fiscally responsible, pro-growth reform agenda," says this aide. May it ever be so.
My Democratic friends bombard me with graphs and article showing how fiscally irresponsible the GOP was on spending, expansion of entitlements, and an over-indulgence in deficit spending during the years in which it controlled both Congress and the White House. They will get no argument from me.
I can only pray that, under the leadership of Speaker Boehner (who, I might add, never sought an earmark during all his years in Congress) and Chairman Ryan, the Republican caucus will undergo a sustained reformation bringing with it fiscal integrity and spending restraint, nay, reductions.
So far, it looks promising. Happy New Year!