House Democrats pan new deficit-cutting powers as no solution to fiscal problems

Lawmakers on the House Budget Committee on Thursday said they opposed the expedited rescission proposal because it would shift control over spending from Congress to the executive branch.

"I have never supported the expansion of rescission authority because I believe it's a clear violation of separation of powers ... and it's not a real solution to fiscal challenges," said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) during a hearing on the White House plan Thursday. "I do not support this. I did not for President Bush, and I do not support this now."

ADVERTISEMENT
The proposed power as envisioned by the White House would allow the president to propose a package of cuts to discretionary spending programs after a spending bill became law and then force Congress to take up-or-down votes on the package within 45 legislative days. The president wouldn't be allowed to include cuts to entitlement spending or tax breaks in a rescission package. 

The proposal is similar to the line-item veto that was signed by President Bill Clinton the 1990s. That was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court because it didn't allow lawmakers to review the president's cuts. President George W. Bush requested similar authority, but Congress rejected his plan.

House Democrats on the Budget Committee said the power proposed by Obama wouldn't lead to substantial spending reductions, noting that the president this year has only proposed about $20 billion in spending cuts. 

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) asked why tax expenditures, such as tax loopholes for corporations, would be excluded from rescissions. Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, and other Democratic members worried that the White House would try to cut earmarks that had been vetted by members but considered wasteful by the administration. 

"How do we know in advance if you don't give us a clear definition [of wasteful spending]?" Becerra said. "I hope you work on that."

Becerra urged the administration to look at the nearly $300 billion in annual Defense Department cost overruns found by the General Accountability Office last year.

"Why don't we cancel that before you tell us that you want to get rid of $20 billion in savings you might have in a $1.5 trillion budget?" Becerra said.

The White House has pushed for expanded rescission authority as lawmakers and the public have become more concerned over the $13 trillion debt. 

Jeffrey Liebman, acting deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said at Thursday's hearing that the proposed power was an "important tool" for reducing spending that could build on the president's other deficit-reduction efforts.

While most Democrats who spoke Thursday opposed the proposal, it received backing from the two top House Budget Committee members, Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the panel's top Republican. 

Spratt, the House sponsor of the proposal, said the time for the idea had arrived now that an economic recovery has begun amid a continually growing budget deficit.

"We are bound to be stewards of the taxpayers' money, and it must be made clear to the taxpayers that we are spending their money responsibly," Spratt said.

Ryan pressed the administration to commit the savings from the rescissions to deficit reduction and to make all spending — discretionary, entitlements and tax expenditures — candidates for rescissions. 

But he said that increased power to cut spending was necessary.

"What this effectively does is bring some needed sunshine to the process and helps get at the culture of spending in the Congress," Ryan said.