GOP: The Party of Smaller Government and Fiscal Restraint

Thursday, August 04, 2005

GOP: The Party of Smaller Government and Fiscal Restraint

Or so they like to say.

From the Washington Post
Indeed, Congress has exceeded the allocations or assumptions in its budget resolution four times -- and the year's legislative work is far from complete. According to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, those budget violations have raised spending through 2010 by roughly $2.2 billion above Congress's limits and tacked $115 billion onto the federal budget deficit through the end of decade, including $33 billion in 2006 alone.

That $33 billion may be tantamount to a rounding error in a $2.6 trillion budget, but it is 10 percent of the $333 billion budget deficit the White House has forecast for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

"There's a rising level of frustration with the disconnect between where the vast majority of conservatives are in this country and how Congress is behaving," said former representative Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), whose Club for Growth political action committee finances the campaigns of conservative candidates. "There's going to be a wake-up call sooner or later."

For now, Congress and the White House are locked in a pattern of skirting their own constraints. In 2004, Bush demanded that no highway bill exceed $256 billion. Under pressure, he increased his limit to $284 billion this year. Congress responded with a five-year, $286.5 billion measure, but even that figure may be deceptive, Flake warned. The bill actually authorizes expenditures of $295 billion but assumes that, on the last day of the bill's life, Congress will rescind $8.5 billion in unused funds.

"Nobody believes that's going to happen," Flake said. "It's frankly a pretty transparent gimmick."

Bush set a firm cost limit of $6.7 billion for tax breaks in the energy bill. Congress then approved breaks worth $11.5 billion over 10 years in an energy bill that will cost $12.3 billion overall. In late June, the White House hastily requested an additional $975 million to finance unanticipated veterans' health care costs for 2005. The Senate responded with $1.5 billion.

So far, Congress has completed only two of 13 annual spending bills, but both -- one primarily financing the Interior Department, the other funding Congress -- busted lawmakers' prescribed spending caps, by $134 million.

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