Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, took to the floor yesterday to protest an effort led by Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to place a relatively modest cap on discretionary spending. Before raising a budget point of order (which requires 60 votes to overcome), Chairman Inouye made two interesting arguments against the measure.
First, he argued that the cap on discretionary spending would allow entitlement programs to continue their unabated growth. The chairman is, of course, correct. However, he is most certainly aware that over the past three years, discretionary, non-emergency spending has increased nearly 25%. If Sessions-McCaskill had been in place three years ago, the taxpayers could have saved $165 billion. And, as Senator McCaskill kindly pointed out, the caps mirror President Obama’s budget request.
Second, the chairman suggested a Congressional spending cap would preempt the President’s debt commission. Earlier this year, my Heritage colleague Stuart Butler suggested that an executive commission “would merely remove pressure on Congress or the President to take action.”
Inouye’s desire to punt on tough issues and place responsibility in the hands others is one reason why Americans are so frustrated with Washington. Last month, Rasmussen found that 83% of Americans believe Congress’s “unwillingness to reduce government spending” is to blame for our exploding debt. At this point, Congress is clearly incapable of handling these complex issues and the presence of a faux-commission only serves as a scapegoat for inaction.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining. On January 28, only 56 Senators voted for an earlier version of the Sessions-McCaskill spending caps. This time around, 59 Senators vote for a slightly revised proposal. Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) switched from Nay to Yea votes and new Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) supported the measure.
Incredibly, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who is also an appropriator, actually changed his position during the roll call vote. He initially voted Yea, which would have given the measure the necessary 60 votes in support. However, at some point before the vote was finalized, he changed his vote to Nay resulting in failure for the spending caps.
Congress has a terminal spending addiction, and spending caps are a good first step to curing that addiction. Time will tell if they are willing to take that step, and more. The American people will certainly be watching.