Our nation needs spending reforms, including a new Grace Commission

The Congressional Budget Office now projects the 2010 federal deficit will exceed $1.3 trillion, equal to more than 9 percent of our gross domestic product. It will be the second largest budget shortfall, relative to the size of the economy, since World War II. The largest was the 2009 budget deficit, which stood at $1.42 trillion, or almost 10 percent of GDP.  

The path we are on is unsustainable. We need concrete, practical reforms to cut spending to live within our means.

First, we should end the wasteful practice of no-reform earmarking. Like clockwork, we see annual stories of federal tax dollars earmarked for some truly foolish projects — studying the effects of cocaine on monkeys, water taxis to ghost towns, homeless funds to cities with no homeless people and the $300 million “bridge-to-nowhere” in Alaska. In addition, the ongoing PMA scandal reminds us that earmarking is not merely wasteful — it can also be corrupting. I was proud to become the first member of the House Appropriations Committee to swear off earmarks in 2008. In 2010, all

House Republicans ended their earmarks. With the change coming to Congress, we will hit critical mass to institute permanent spending reforms.

Second, I agree with the president that Congress must enact a constitutionally acceptable line-item veto. Based on the tested procedures used to close military bases, the president should be able to send a list to Congress for expedited procedures for up-or-down votes on the list. Such a reform would cut federal spending and would be approved by the Supreme Court.

Third, Congress should pass the Balanced Budget Amendment as envisioned by former Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.). The Balanced Budget Amendment would require a three-fifths majority vote to enact any spending in excess of federal revenue except in times of war. It would also require a three-fifths majority to raise the statutory debt limit.

Fourth, because constitutional amendments take time, I will work to change House and Senate rules by requiring a three-fifths majority vote to approve new spending above and beyond current law.

We are in crisis, and we need to make it harder to add to our debt.

Finally, Congress and the president should establish a new Grace Commission, the Reagan-era “Private Sector Survey on Cost Control,” to make spending cut recommendations to the government.

In 1982, President Reagan directed the Grace Commission to “work like tireless bloodhounds to root out government inefficiency and waste of tax dollars.” After a two-year study at no taxpayer expense, the panel made 2,478 recommendations, which it estimated would save $1.9 trillion by the year 2000. A 21st century Grace Commission should also be given the powers of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, with its recommendations facing certain up or down votes in both chambers.

Our refusal to live within our means will trigger an economic emergency. Our national debt now totals more than $40,000 per citizen. By implementing the reforms I outline above, we can pull back from the brink and ensure continued economic recovery. We can do it — we just need leaders with the will to vote for such reforms.

Rep. Kirk is a member of the Appropriations Committee.