Saturday, June 25, 2005

How many budget hawks?

Believe it or not, there are still Republicans in Congress that believe in a small government. Case in point: this Roll Call article from yesterday. I couldn't find a free copy online, but the Club for Growth sent me a copy in an email bragging about it, so I can provide some excerpts:
Senators, take heed: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) may have a "hold" on your bill.

The freshman is using his power as a Senator to put a hold - or secret filibuster threat - on any bill he believes would create a new spending program, whether it is included in an appropriations bill or an authorizing bill.
Placing a hold is essentially "a threat to filibuster or talk at great length" about the subject, said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). "It's a notification to the leaders that a Member wants to be notified if you're bringing up" a bill or nomination, Lott said.

Lott noted that holds can be "a serious impediment" to getting bills passed, given that many bills in the Senate are passed by unanimous consent at the end of each legislative day during what is known as "wrap up." In particular, many bills containing Senators' pet projects or dealing with purely parochial state issues are passed by unanimous consent in that fashion.
Lott said he wasn't aware of Coburn's plan to hold up myriad bills, but said Coburn is "genuinely and legitimately concerned about the size of the deficit."

Still, during his more than 30 years in Congress, Lott said he has learned something about how to keep the likes of Coburn from stopping his pet projects from becoming law.

"The way I do it is, I fold them into bills where you can't find it," Lott said. "I've been around here long enough to know how to bury it."
Lott's legislation by obfuscation is yet another data point to convince me that the overwhelming tendency of Congress to increase federal spending is a structural phenomenon, and 1995 was just a brief outlier from the trend. Senators like Tom Coburn may be able to do some good at the margins, but there are simply too few people like him in Congress. See for example this estimate by Pat Toomey, president of the Club for Growth:
Q: If you researched the current Republican congressmen, how many would pass your test on taxes and growth?
A: I'm looking to bring on board somebody who can help us compile those kinds of statistics. Historically, the club has never really gone back and evaluated the voting records. My guess is that we would find somewhere between 50 and 70 House members who consistently vote for pro-growth policy, although only 20 or 25 really have sterling records in that regard. And maybe there's a dozen or so in the Senate.
These numbers, besides being just educated guesses by Toomey, are not specifically about spending restraint but also about support for tax cuts; these two things are not perfectly correlated. For more precise and relevant numbers, I turned to the congressional ratings maintained by the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste. Their latest numbers are for 2003. For comparison with Toomey's estimate, there are 11 senators who scored 80 or better (100 being the best possible), whether one measures by lifetime rating or just by 2003 rating. (I didn't take the time to do a similar count for the House.)

If there is little hope for Congress, then what about the presidency with its veto power? Anyone who followed the Bush campaign back in 2000 isn't surprised that Bush has worked a lot harder at reforming the federal government than at shrinking it. According to current prices at Tradesports, the top three contenders for the 2008 Repubican nomination are Senators McCain, Frist, and Allen. Their respective CCAGW lifetime ratings are 87, 75, and 73.


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