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December 22, 2005
How Do We Solve Pork For Good?

The failure of the ANWR strategy of amending arctic drilling to the defense budget, even as other spending amendments remain attached to the Pentagon funding, has Jon Henke at QandO thinking about how best to fight pork and get more honest votes on all federal funding. Jon, who runs one of the best neoliberatarian sites along with co-bloggers Dale Franks and McQ, wants to return to line-item budgeting:

The Parties have each failed to coordinate their principles on legislating-via-budget because they don't actually have any principles on legislating-via-budget. Their position on the process is entirely dependent upon the outcome. They have no Original Position.

While calculations of power and interest might lead one to conclude that this process-pervesion will ultimately be productive, this is not a promising way to organize government. The tables will turn, the majority will be the minority and the precedent will have been set. Republicans often complain that the judicial branch has become "activist", but the budget can just as easily become an instrument of new policy creation rather than extant policy implementation.

In politics, precedent is prophecy.

In other words, Congressmen who learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The problem is that they learn too well from it, and each succeeding generation gets better at sticking as much pork as possible onto unrelated legslation. During the Clinton administration, the Republican-controlled Congress gave the President the ability to veto separate line items -- a power that soon disappeared, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling the law unconstitutional. Clinton only had a chance to red-line a few projects.

Jon argues that Congress should reorganize its rules to require line-item budgeting -- a floor vote on each line item in every bill. It seems to me that the work on that would be lengthy, perhaps too much so for a year just on budgeting alone. On the other hand, the sheer volume alone might work as a limiting factor on federal spending. If the President couldn't veto on a line-item basis, at least Congress would have to pass each item on its own merits, and as an added bonus, we would know that the Congressmen and Congresswomen actually read the bills on which they vote.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 22, 2005 9:54 PM

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