Reining in Federal Spending; What It Takes to Control the Congressional Budget

Article excerpt

Byline: Gary J. Andres, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The second floor of the U.S. Capitol has been closed to tourists for almost 10 years due to security and congestion concerns, accessible only to members of Congress, staff and persons on "official business." Sadly, this prohibition denies visitors some of the most spectacular views of the city: The Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial grace the Mall to the west, while the grand architecture of the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress dominate the vista to the east.

Today's guests, however, would be shocked at the panorama outside one side of the nearly two-century-old Capitol. Gone are the ancient oaks and maples, shading the green grass and park benches on the expansive lawn on the east side. Now a mammoth crater, wide as a football field and several stories deep - the construction site of the new visitors center - replaces that view.

Inside "the hole" there are trucks, bulldozers and two massive cranes rising hundreds of feet into the air - the necessary tools to accomplish the task at hand.

Walking through the Capitol this week, I thought the heavy-duty gear used outside the building was an appropriate metaphor for another discussion about "tools" going on inside the building this week. Today, a subcommittee of the House Rules Committee begins an important set of hearings about reforming the congressional budget process. Re-establishing the necessary legislative utensils - the shovels and picks lawmakers need to better control spending and dig out of the deficit hole - is a central theme in these deliberations.

The Rules Subcommittee, chaired by Ohio congresswoman and Republican Conference Chair Deborah Pryce, will question White House Budget Director Joshua Bolten and a variety of lawmakers about their ideas to change the budget laws, making it easier for Congress to curb the urge to splurge. Budget-process reform may seem arcane, yet these rules have a major impact on how Congress decides to spend and its ability to achieve fiscal restraint.

The major law establishing the current rules, the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, is now 30 years old. This measure, which created the House and Senate Budget Committees, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and a host of complicated procedures, has also produced only three balanced budgets in as many decades. All you need to know about the feckless nature of the law is that a Democrat-controlled Congress, upset that Republican President Nixon was trying to control wasteful spending, originally enacted it to keep their spending spigot flowing. …