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Impounding the Strays

May 25, 2010
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Readers know that politicians and their spending habits is a sore/interesting subject for me.  Even though Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national defense are far and away the biggest drivers of our budget, I’ve always thought that a line-item veto was a brilliant way to cut unnecessary spending out of the budget.  Unfortunately, it happens to be unconstitutional, and constitutional amendments seem to happen once in every billion blue moons, so other options are in need of exploration.  The White House is attempting to do just that with the “Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010”, in which, upon passage of a bill, the President sends a number of “rescissions” back to the Congress which he wishes to eliminate from the legislation.  If that sounds like it probably wouldn’t work, especially given the dysfunctional state of this Congress, then consider this much easier method proposed by Bruce Bartlett:

I have no problem with this legislation; I do believe that insofar as the budget is concerned that the president needs more authority vis a vis Congress. However, I think there really is a much simpler way of getting around the constitutional problem–just repeal the part of the Budget Act which prohibits impoundment.

In essence, impoundment means that if the president doesn’t want to spend money appropriated by Congress he simply impounds it; i.e., doesn’t spend it. It has exactly the same effect as a line-item veto and is unquestionably constitutional–every president up until Nixon had and routinely used impoundment to control spending.

That seems like an even better idea than a line-item veto: it’s constitutional, the only reason it was suspended in the first place, as Bartlett explains, was its timing in conjunction with Watergate, and, best of all, it doesn’t give the President any power to spend, it just gives him the power not to spend.  In terms of absolute spending, this probably wouldn’t mean thaaat much given the overwhelming burden that entitlement/defense spending places on the budget in relation to everything else, but it would be a good idea for a nation that faces an upcoming fiscal crisis if some serious budget gaps are not narrowed and the economy doesn’t improve quickly.  Not a solution, but a good start.

P.S.  Thanks a lot, Dick.

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