Issue in Brief
With the federal government running deficits for the past eight years - and for the forseeable future, fiscal conservatives on the left and right occasionally howl for stricter rules and checks to keep spending under control.
While 2006's Congress was gunning for a line-item veto and talked about setting up sunset rules and an efficiency panel, the 2007 Congress and current Obama administration are hot to pass pay/go rules. More on what all those reforms are about:
Pay/go. Pay/go rules would require Congress to either raise taxes or cut spending when it wants to make any other tax cut or spending increase - in essence, to balance out all its tax cuts and spending increases and not raise the deficit any further. The House passed its own pay/go rules in January, 2007. Pay/go rules, to the dismay of fiscal conservatives, are not set in stone - a "supermajority" (usually of 2/3rds) can vote to override pay/go rules when passing new spending or tax cuts. Obama revived the idea of pay/go in 2009, to be used just for "entitlement" spending; it's unclear whether Congress will run with that suggestion (NYT).
The line-item veto. In 1996, Congress gave President Clinton the line-item veto, allowing him to snip out small budget items in large spending bills. In '98, the Supreme Court, arguing that the Constitution only gives the president the power to sign or veto bills - not to edit them - nixed the selective veto as unconstitutional. This time around, lawmakers think their version of the line-item will be legit in the Supremes' eyes since the president will have to send any bill he trims back to Congress for a final vote of approval. More on the line-item.
"Sunset" bills. Another budget-tightening concept is to set up rules that would phase out federal programs or agencies over a certain time period if they are thought to be no longer needed. The idea here is that Congress often puts programs in place and keeps funding them without ever checking to see if the programs are delivering on their promises.
Efficiency panel. The House in 2006 was keen on setting up a panel that would look at federal programs and agencies to see which ones were redundant (that is, doing the same work as another agency) or ineffective, with an eye to recommending that they be trimmed - but an attempt to set up the panel was pulled from the floor in July of that year.
See also: Lobby and earmark reform.
Updated January 8, 2007
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