Senate Republicans introduce bill to eliminate budget gimmicks

If only we could all budget our money the way Uncle Sam does. We could justify routine purchases as “emergency” spending. (Five dollars for a caffeine fix at Starbucks? But it’s an emergency!) We could pretend we saved money by not buying something we never planned to buy in the first place — and then spend that money elsewhere. (You always planned to pay college tuition for your kids even after they graduated university, right? Well, don’t — save the money and buy a new car instead!). We could delay payment by ten years for major purchases and pretend we’ll never have to pay for them. (What washer and dryer? You don’t owe money for either in this 10-year enforceable window — so don’t budget for ’em at all.)

But, for some strange reason, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) think it should be the other way around: They think Uncle Sam should start budgeting a little more like we do. That’s why, today, they introduced the Honest Budget Act, a bill to eliminate the most outrageous gimmicks Congress uses to justify increased spending.

“The American people are very unhappy with Washington and they have a right to be,” Sessions said this morning on a conference call. “They believe that we’re not honest about our numbers, that we’re manipulating spending and that we’re driving up the debt to further our own agendas. [So,] we’ve examined the budget process over the last decade or more [and] we’ve identified nine distinct problems that tend to recur that represent manipulation of the truth when we deal with the public about the budget.”

Sessions and Snowe identified them — and then sought to eliminate them. Among other things, the Honest Budget Act does the following:

  • Requires both houses of Congress to adopt a binding budget resolution or face a 60-vote threshold to move any spending bills through Congress (in other words, under the HBA, no budget — in all probability — equals no appropriations);
  • Makes it more difficult to label routine expenditures “emergency spending”;
  • Eliminates phony rescissions (Congress can no longer use savings from falsely projected spending to justify actual increases in spending);
  • Makes real the fake federal pay freeze; and
  • Disallows timing shifts, which bill drafters use to make a bill appear deficit-neutral within a certain time frame.

“This is a good step,” Sessions said. “We can accomplish two things: We can restore more public confidence in the numbers that come out of the budget process and we can save money at the same time.”

Actually save money. Consider: Since 2005, budget gimmicks have enabled more than $350 billion worth of additional deficit spending.

Sessions said he and Snowe expect to receive broad and bipartisan support for their bill.

“I’ve had Democrats tell me they want budget reform,” Sessions said. “I find it more clearly advocated by new members on both sides of the aisle.”

Seriously: Who won’t support this bill? Are some senators actually willing to stand up and say, “We’re all for tricking the American people as long as we’re not caught”? Who am I kidding? Of course some are. Look for this bill to be buried by Harry Reid — but to nevertheless drive a meaningful discussion of budget reform. And if it does come up for a vote, it’ll be nice to have it blatantly on record that some senators actually stand for disingenuous practices.