House committee approves bills to sunset programs

Votes fall along party lines with key Democrat concerned commissions would be partisan, put agencies on “extermination” schedules.

The House Government Reform Committee on Thursday approved bills mostly along party lines that would sunset programs, a move Republicans said was necessary to eliminate government inefficiency.

One measure introduced by Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, would establish a permanent commission that would set all federal programs on a path to sunset every 12 years unless Congress acts to keep them. The other bill by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., would give the president authority to establish commissions to review federal programs for their efficiency and duplication and then recommend to Congress elimination or reorganization.

House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., said hearings showed the need for legislation to examine the "operations and effectiveness" of federal programs.

Davis said the Tiahrt bill would create bipartisan review commissions, but Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the panels would end up being partisan commissions. The commissions would be "empowered to propose eliminating or privatizing critical government programs and require those proposals be considered under expedited procedures," setting an agenda for Congress, he said.

Brady's bill would authorize either the president by executive order or Congress by a joint resolution of both chambers to create a 12-member bipartisan commission to review government operations. In the first year of a commission's existence, it would be required to group agencies in categories of overlapping responsibilities and set a date when each agency would expire unless Congress affirmatively acted to reauthorize it.

A definite date when an agency would expire would concentrate Congress' attention on that agency, supporters said. After setting a sunset date for each agency, the commission would then examine each one for overlapping responsibilities and inefficiencies, and recommend changes. If Congress did not act by the targeted date, that agency would be eliminated.

Waxman denounced the Brady approach as "an extermination schedule for every federal agency" and insisted it would put at risk federal agencies that "play a vital role in protecting the health, welfare and security of all Americans."