The Anti-Appropriations Committee

Article excerpt

An old-way plan to curb spending and realign politicians' interests.

THE PAINFUL JOKE in Washington, D.C.. is that while there are two political parties in America, there are actually three political parties in the U.S. Congress: Republicans, Democrats, and Appropriators.

This provides no challenge to the modern Democratic Party. Democratic appropriators are professional lifelong spenders of other people's money. Ordinary Democratic congressmen are too. They are simply jealous of the appropriators' proximity to the cookie jar.

For Republicans, appropriators who wear the Republican jersey became a fifth column- congressmen who saw themselves as "spenders" in a party whose platform, leaders, and press releases tried to brand the party as the one dedicated to reducing government spending. When Republicans controlled Congress. GOP appropriators also found that they could raise campaign funds in return for sticking earmarks into legislation. This meant that the 36 Republican appropriators in the House and the 18 Republican appropriators in the Senate found they could afford to spend less time appealing to conservatives back in their districts. Over time, appropriators tended to become spenders first. Republicans second, and conservatives less and less. Worse, the trading of earmarked appropriations for campaign contributions, a practice known as "pay to play," is considered an art by Chicago Democrats but corruption by suburban and rural Republican district voters. And eventually such pay to play does in some cases become undeniable corruption very much damaging to the Republican brand, as in the tragic case of Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA), who resigned in 2005 after admitting to taking millions in bribes.

Beginning during the height of Republican control of the House- before most Republicans were willing to see the problem- there was an on-again, off-again campaign to term limit membership on the Appropriations Committee to six years, on the theory that no Republican would then see himself as a permanent member of the spending class. The Budget Committee, created in the 1974 Budget Act, limited its members to six years, not just for the chairman, but for membership on the committee itself. Perhaps the power held by appropriators and the resulting corruption could be limited through term limits.

A different approach now gaining support builds on an example from recent history of a successful structural reform that actually saved taxpayers money and eliminated government programs.

When the United States declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy during World War II, U.S. senator Harry F. Byrd (D-VA) wanted to pay for more of the war effort not by raising taxes but by reducing non-defense government expenditures. He designed the Joint Committee on Reduction of Nonessential Federal Expenditures, which he chaired from 1941 to his retirement in 1965. This committee, also known as the Byrd Committee, was a bicameral body with members from the House and Senate. It had subpoena power to compel bureaucrats to testify and open up their books. Its sole mission was to identify nonessential federal expenditures and recommend their elimination or reduction. The committee published scorekeeping reports on congressional action flowing from their recommendations.

The committee had 14 members: three from each of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, three from the House Ways and Means Committee, and three from the Senate Finance Committee. There were eight Democrats and four Republicans, as the Democrats held the majority in Congress. The secretary of the treasury and the director of the bureau of the budget also served on it.

The Byrd Committee had real accomplishments. In its "Economic Progress Report of 1945," the committee reported that in 1941, 1942, 1943, and 1944 the committee spent $45,913.08 dollars "for all purposes" and made recommendations resulting in direct savings of $2,457,623,568. …