Putting a stop to government overspending?

John Dimsdale Jun 19, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: If you ran a household budget like Congress runs the government, you’d wind up in jail. Many lawmakers haven’t met a pet project they didn’t like. So this week some on Capitol Hill are making a plea: Stop me before I spend again. Marketplace’s John Dimsdale has the story from Washington.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Four years ago Congress abandoned mandatory limits on spending and the congressional budget process fell into disarray, compounded by hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency spending for the war on terror and natural disasters.

Tomorrow, the Senate Budget Committee chairman, New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg, will bring a budget overhaul package to his committee. It would force Congress’ big spenders to stay below a steadily declining limit on deficits. Going above the ceiling would trigger across-the-board spending cuts — including, for the first time, cuts in mandatory government support programs like Medicare and veterans benefits.

SEN. JUDD GREGG: As Willie Sutton said, You go where the money is — and that’s why he robbed banks. And the fact is that the discretionary side of the ledger as a percentage of the federal budget is small. It’s 15 percent. Whereas the mandatory side, especially health care, is over 60 percent of the federal budget.

Democrats, however, balk at Senator Gregg’s targeting of entitlement programs. And Bob Bixby of the budgetary watchdog Concord Coalition says there’s another thing Democrats don’t like.

BOB BIXBY: It also exempts the extension of tax cuts that have been enacted since President Bush took office. Extending them would not require any accommodation to the budget, even if it increased the size of the deficit.

Another of Senator Gregg’s budget reforms that may have a bit more political support would give the President something similar to a line-item veto. While that might save a billion here or a billion there, budget experts agree it’s not going to balance the federal budget.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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