Spending bills face new roadblocks in Senate

Eight Republican senators, including Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and John McCain, R-Ariz., put their colleagues on notice with a letter Thursday announcing their intent to block any legislation that doesn't meet certain criteria, including a requirement that all new spending must be offset with cuts to lower priority spending.

"As stewards of our nation's finances, we must ensure our good intentions today are not paid for at the expense of future generations," said the letter, which was sent to all senators. "This means no longer spending money we do not have to pay for programs we do not need."

The letter said the aim was to restore a certain level of accountability: "We believe the Senate should apply these and other commonsense practices to restore fiscal responsibility and increase accountability and transparency to the legislative process," the letter continued. "And while we expect all of these standards to be met for each bill the Senate considers, this is not an exhausted list of all the reasons we may individually object to a particular bill or unanimous consent request."

Other criteria include a requirement that government programs must be periodically reviewed and renewed. To that end, the letter calls for any legislation establishing or continuing an agency, office, or program must also include a "sunset" date at which point Congress must decide whether to update or extend the life of the program.

The senators also called for the cost and text of bills to be available for at least three days prior to passage and that all bills be required to have a clear and obvious purpose connected to one of the enumerated powers of Congress contained in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, and must not infringe upon any of the rights guaranteed to the people.

The latter criterion appears aimed at legislation like the health care overhaul law, which has been challenged in the courts by Republican state attorneys general. Republicans point to the law-which in 2014 will require that individuals purchase health insurance-as the paradigmatic example of unconstitutional government overreach.

"I'm proud to stand with my fellow conservative Senate colleagues to require thorough review of bills to prevent secret passage of wasteful spending and unconstitutional legislation," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said in a release. "Our nation is on the edge of bankruptcy, and we simply cannot afford more borrowing from foreign nations to spend on programs we don't need."

The senators also said, in order to reduce redundancy, any bill creating a program that replicates a current government mission must consolidate overlapping activities or eliminate the existing programs.

The criterion comes after the Government Accountability Office released a report this week-required by an amendment included by Coburn in legislation that passed last year that raised the debt ceiling-that lists 33 areas where federal programs overlap, creating potential for savings through consolidation or elimination of duplicative programs.

"This week's GAO report exposing widespread duplication in the federal government shows why Congress needs to eliminate programs that don't work instead of creating new programs we don't need, and can't afford," Coburn said in a release.

For example, the report cites five separate arms-control and nonproliferation bureaus, including two in the State Department, and 18 separate domestic food assistance programs.

It is not clear that many such "duplicative" programs fully overlap. Nor does the report say that overlapping means they cannot provide cumulative benefits. But GAO contends that the duplication creates an opportunity for quick savings.

"By making clear these expectations now, it is our hope we can work together earlier in the legislative process to resolve differences that could otherwise delay or stop passage of your legislative priorities," the letter said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.