Later this month, the Obama Administration is expected to submit a plan to Congress seeking additional power to cut specific items from spending bills. This proposal is commonly called the “Line-Item Veto,” named after the law ruled unconstitutional in the 1990’s. However, line-item vetoes did not require Congressional approval, while these rescissions do. Obama’s anticipated proposal, correctly labeled “enhanced rescission,” would give the President 45 days after signing a spending bill to submit items to Congress for elimination. Congress would then be forced to schedule an up or down vote within 25 days either approving or rejecting the proposal.
Certainly any proposal to eliminate unnecessary and wasteful spending should be applauded. However, the extent to which enhanced recession is an effective tool for significant deficit reduction shouldn’t be misconstrued. Relying on enhanced rescission to reduce the federal deficit is akin to depending on an X-Acto Knife to cut down a forest of giant redwood trees.
Of $43 trillion in spending since 1990, Presidents have proposed rescinding only $20 billion, and Congress has approved just $6 billion in rescissions (.01 percent of all spending). Further, neither President Obama, nor President Bush before him has even proposed a single rescission. While a process which has saved $6 billion over 20 years is better than nothing, it will hardly close a deficit which is projected to top $1 trillion through 2011. Although the Obama proposal would strengthen current law by preventing Congress from simply ignoring the package, other significant hurdles remain.
Specifically, the spending cuts the President would send to Congress for elimination would be the same items members of Congress spent months attempting to pass in the first place. It is unclear why Congress would immediately vote to repeal spending provisions they just recently negotiated and passed.
While cutting a few extraneous spending items is a commendable aspiration, and forcing members of Congress to go on the record against spending reductions may help a bit, Americans and politicians alike must put these types of proposals into perspective. Small reductions can add up, but without serious entitlement reform returning the country to long-term fiscal sustainability will remain a dream.