Rescission will help restore fiscal discipline

In the 1990s, I introduced a bill enhancing the president’s power of rescission.  Republicans responded with a line-item veto. In floor debate, I predicted the item veto would be found unconstitutional and proposed my bill as a way to have an alternative. The Republicans rejected my bill, so that when the Supreme Court struck the item veto down, nothing remained in its place.  

Last month, I introduced another rescission bill, dubbed the “Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010.” The Obama administration requested the bill to increase the scrutiny of spending through a procedure known as “expedited rescission.” 

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Expedited rescission enhances fiscal discipline by allowing the president to sign spending bills into law, while culling out unneeded, unjustified or wasteful items and proposing that Congress rescind such items. Congress is required to consider these recommendations as one package, without amendment and on a fast-track basis, guaranteeing an up-or-down vote within a specified time frame.

While expedited rescission won’t wipe out our deficit, it will be one more tool in our kit to control spending. 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. 

The Bush administration inherited a $5.6 trillion surplus projected over ten years and turned it into trillion dollar deficits. By contrast, the Obama administration and Democratic Congress inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit for 2009 alone. When the president took office and the 111th Congress began, we were in the throes of the worst recession since the Great Depression. The recession and the necessary economic recovery efforts took an unavoidable toll on the budget in the short run, but the recovery measures have started to pull us back from the brink and out of recession. Now we are in the position to turn our attention to the longer-term fiscal fate of our country and to focus on bringing the deficit down as the economy recovers.

Since taking the majority back in 2007, the Democratic Congress has proven its commitment to fiscal discipline. We have reinstated pay-as-you-go laws requiring new mandatory spending or tax cuts not increase the deficit — legislation that was allowed to lapse in 2002 under the Republican Congress and President Bush. We are actively participating in the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission, which I sit on and is now hard at work to tackle deficits. The president has also proposed a freeze in non-security discretionary spending for three years. In addition, we have passed rules prohibiting the use of reconciliation procedures to increase the deficit and reforming the way that earmarks are dealt with. Now I am calling for expedited rescission authority, which helps eliminate wasteful spending.

We proved in the 1990s that it is possible to reduce deficits responsibly. I was proud to have helped hammer out the Balanced Budget Agreement of 1997 that created surpluses for the first time in decades, but it cannot happen again without a concerted effort. 

I believe that expedited rescission has a part to play in deficit-reduction, and that it will add more rigor into the budget process. While my involvement with the idea of expedited rescission dates back to the 1990s, I am pleased to see that the co-sponsors of this legislation span the Democratic spectrum — from freshmen to veterans, from Progressives to New Democrats to Blue Dogs — all united in the belief that we need to put the budget back on a sustainable path. I look forward to working with all interested parties as we consider ways to improve this bill and move it through Congress.

Rep. Spratt is chairman of the House Budget Committee.