A Boring Process Bill Can Lead to Greatness

H.R.3521 Expedited Legislative Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act of 2011

Sponsor: Paul D. Ryan
Introduced: November 30, 2011
Passed House: February 8, 2012 254 – 173

Impoundment is the decision by the President not to spend money that has already been appropriated by the U.S. Congress. The precedent for presidential impoundment was first set by Thomas Jefferson in 1801. The power was available to all presidents up to and including Richard Nixon, and was regarded as a power inherent to the office. The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 was passed in response to perceived abuse of the power under President Nixon. The Act was inspired by Richard Nixon’s refusal to disburse nearly $12 billion of congressionally-appropriated funds in 1973-74 through the executive power of impoundment, as well as more generalized fears about the budget deficit. Nixon claimed that the deficit was causing high inflation and that as a result he needed to curb government spending. Title X of the Act, and its interpretation under Train v. City of New York, essentially removed the power. This severely inhibited a president’s ability to combat excessive spending.

The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 provides that the president may propose the rescinding of specific funds, but that rescission must be approved by both the House of Representatives and Senate within 45 days. In effect, this has removed the impoundment power, since Congress is not required to vote on the rescission and has ignored the vast majority of presidential requests.

H.R.3521 gives the president the power to require a vote in Congress, within 60 days and without amendment, on whether to uphold the proposed cuts. It could be used only to target discretionary spending, not entitlement programs or individual tax provisions.

Paul Ryan:

The bill would require lawmakers to “think twice” about adding provisions to spending bills, because they may end up having to publicly defend the provisions if the president seeks to cancel them. The measure of success of this reform will not be measured by how many individual spending line items get voted out of spending by Congress, but how many items don’t get put in these bills in the first place.

There are many who read about this action in the House and can barely stifle a yawn from reading it. I understand the cynicism on whether the bill will actually become law.  SCOTUS has already declared the line item veto act passed in the 1990s as unconstitutional because it violated the “finely wrought” legislative procedures of Article I as envisioned by the Framers.  SCOTUS did not declare the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 unconstitutional for violating established precedent for presidential impoundment. Perhaps unrelated, but the Watergate scandal might have been the reason why. I do think this is a good bill for the reasons Paul Ryan provides.

I also think there will always be a tug of war between the President and Congress over command and control of the power to spend federal dollars. The 41 GOP members of the House who voted “No” are not all RINOs. What they have in common is a desire to hold onto power and control in spending federal dollars. I list them below.

  1. Robert B. Aderholt R AL-4
  2. Rodney Alexander R LA-5
  3. Justin Amash R MI-3
  4. Steve Austria R OH-7
  5. Spencer Bachus R AL-6
  6. Jo Bonner R AL-1
  7. C. Boustany Jr. R LA-7
  8. Paul Broun R GA-10
  9. Dan Burton R IN-5
  10. Ken Calvert R CA-44
  11. John Carter R TX-31
  12. Tom Cole R OK-4
  13. Ander Crenshaw R FL-4
  14. Jeffrey Duncan R SC-3
  15. Jo Ann Emerson R MO-8
  16. Kay Granger R TX-12
  17. Morgan Griffith R VA-9
  18. J. Herrera Beutler R WA-3
  19. Duncan D. Hunter R CA-52
  20. Walter B. Jones R NC-3
  21. Steve King R IA-5
  22. S. C. LaTourette R OH-14
  23. Raul Labrador R ID-1
  24. Jeff Landry R LA-3
  25. Jerry Lewis R CA-41
  26. Alan Nunnelee R MS-1
  27. Steven Palazzo R MS-4
  28. Martha Roby R AL-2
  29. Harold Rogers R KY-5
  30. Mike D. Rogers R AL-3
  31. Tom Rooney R FL-16
  32. Austin Scott R GA-8
  33. Bill Shuster R PA-9
  34. Mike Simpson R ID-2
  35. Glenn Thompson R PA-5
  36. Joe Walsh R IL-8
  37. Edward Whitfield R KY-1
  38. Frank R. Wolf R VA-10
  39. Steve Womack R AR-3
  40. C. W. Bill Young R FL-10
  41. Don Young R AK-1

The Wilberforce Weekend 2012 is scheduled March 30-April 1 2012, and the reason I bring this up is to show a historical example of how a boring mundane bill can be just the beginning of achieving greatness. Check out the bullet points timeline below of William Wilberforce and his political quest to bring an end to the slave trade and slavery itself.

  • May 1789 A debate – Wilberforce lost – he knew that the slaves would continue to suffer.
  • April 1791 A second debate was held. Wilberforce lost by 75 votes.
  • April 1792. A third debate; Wilberforce thought of the slaves’ suffering – he had lost again.
  • Early in 1793 he tried again – he lost by eight votes.
  • Later, in May 1793 he tried to prohibit British ships from carrying slaves. He was told to get a hairdresser to curl his straight locks; to find a woman; to visit the theatre because his brain had become addled.
  • February 1794. He tried again; the Commons passed it – the Lords did not – people began to ostracize him.
  • Easter 1796. He tried again, losing by four votes.
  • 1804 Another debate – it passed the Commons but the Lords shelved it for a year.
  • 2nd May 2, 1806 In the end the merchants were wrong-footed by a separate act suggested by a fellow abolitionist and maritime lawyer called James Steven, which in 1806 banned British subjects from participating in the slave trade to the colonies of France and their allies. At a stroke this wiped out around two thirds of the trade and made Wilberforce’s abolition bill academic. This passed by 22 votes
  • February 1807 – another debate! Wilberforce won by 267 votes. The house rose to its feet and turning towards Wilberforce cheered him wildly – he sat with tears streaming down his face. No more Africans would endure the Middle Passage.
  • 26th July 1833, a Bill to abolish slavery passed the Commons then the Lords. England paid 20 million to purchase the slaves’ freedom. He could not be there but said, “I thank God that I have lived to witness it.”
  • He began to sink. Three days later he died. He was 74.

This history lesson shows me how we never know when some event that seems like no big deal can eventually lead to great success. Turning the direction involved in the spending of federal dollars is of critical importance.

Cross-posted at Unified Patriots