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To End Spending Spree, Congress Must Reform Broken Budget Process, Study Reminds Lawmakers

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(Alexandria, VA) -- If Congress is serious about curtailing corruption and rampant overspending, it should look no further than its own flawed budget process, according to a new Policy Paper from the non-partisan National Taxpayers Union (NTU). After reviewing the ins and outs of federal fiscal policy, NTU concluded that taxpayers could save billions if Congress adopted spending caps, earmark reform, and a line-item veto, among other measures.

Study author and Government Affairs Manager Andrew Moylan noted, "Congress clearly lacks the institutional will to restrain spending, so the solution to the problem must be structural in nature. That structural solution is called budget process reform, which can act as a guardrail on the road to fiscal restraint." The study also makes recommendations for a spending commission and dynamic revenue estimates to further strengthen budget restraints.

Among the study's main recommendations:

  • Discretionary Spending Cap: Arguably the most important measure to control government growth, Congress should cap non-entitlement spending. In addition, if the cap were exceeded, a series of automatic budget cuts would be triggered to bring the budget back into balance.
  • Earmark Reform: The process of earmarking is a central element to corruption in Congress, and with a price tag of approximately $30 billion a year, taxpayers have even more justification to despise this graft-prone practice. Congressional rules should stipulate that every earmark contain the name of the sponsor; reform should also include a ban on earmarks in conference reports.
  • Control Emergency Supplemental Spending: Congress often uses this tool to add even more pork and expand government. Last year, Congress spent $160.4 billion in supplemental spending. The study recommends implementing a 3/5 majority requirement for passage of emergency supplementals and suggests that all Iraq and Afghanistan funding be included in the budget itself.
  • Line-Item Veto: History has shown that Congress alone cannot control wasteful spending. By allowing the President to cancel needless spending measures, taxpayers will have yet another institutional protection. When President Clinton briefly exercised this power, he was able to roll back more than $2 billion in expenditures; future Presidents could likely save taxpayers far more.

Moylan noted that the most comprehensive legislation in Congress currently is S. 3521, sponsored by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH). "If [S. 3521] were to pass the notoriously spendthrift Senate, it would be a big victory for taxpayers; ... it would provide clear limits to discretionary spending while also highlighting the impending entitlement crisis," Moylan wrote.

"With profligate spending as large a problem as ever, now is the time to institute genuine budget process reform," Moylan concluded. "Implementing the proposals detailed here would allow American taxpayers to feel secure that their money is at least being appropriated honestly, if not wisely."

NTU is a non-profit citizen group with 350,000 members working for lower taxes and smaller government at all levels. Note: NTU Policy Paper 123, A Last Hurrah? How Congressional Republicans Can Fulfill the Promise of Budget Process Reform, is available online at www.ntu.org.

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