Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cut, Cut Cut

This past week, Speaker of the House John Boehner gave the House of Representatives all the rope in the world and said, effectively, "hang us." And so as one of its three exclusive powers (the other two being the ability to impeach elected officials, as well as to break an Electoral College deadlock), the 435 members of 112th Congress exercised the power of the purse, and began the process of determining how our tax dollars will be spent. Proposing 583 amendments to the basic revenue raising bill, 153 were brought to the floor, with 67 finally being adopted after 4 days of debate. Like the outcome or not, that's some serious legislatin' action.

The final result shaved some $60 billion off of the proposed federal budget. In theory, all well and good. The devil, though, is in the details. Some trims appear to make sense regardless of what ideology you espouse: Representative Tom Rooney, Republican of Florida, proposed Amendment #2, which eliminates $450 million in funding for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter alternative engine program, a program which Defense Secretary Robert Gates called "an unnecessary and extravagant expense." Others are more partisan in nature, such as #83, #268, #409 and #575, proposed respectively by Republicans Mary Jo Emerson of Missouri, Steve King of Iowa, Tom Price of Georgia and Denny Rehlberg of Montana. Each prohibits funding for various elements of the National Health Care Law. And a few proposals even came from Democrats: Jim Matheson of Utah offered up #38, which prohibits the use of funds for the Department of Agriculture's Community Connect broadband grant program.

Other cuts made one wonder... or maybe not... just what were they thinking. Dan Boren of Oklahoma was behind #566, which bars funds from being used to require manufacturers to report to the Justice Department the sale of multiple guns to one person. If you're of the Mike Bloomberg persuasion it doesn't make a lot of sense, until you find out that Boren is also a member of the Board of the NRA. Randy Forbes of Virginia got agreement on #145, which prohibits the use of any funds in the closure or realignment of the United States Joint Forces Command. Surprise, surprise, the USJFC is headquartered in Norfolk, VA. But there were also some profiles in courage: Anthony Weiner of New York was willing to incur the wrath of the Angora goat lobby with #101, which prohibits the use of funds to provide non-recourse marketing assistance loans for mohair.

In short, there is something for everyone to hate or like. However, while Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution starts with "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives," it ends with, "but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills." In other words, it's hardly a done deal, and the fun is just beginning.

As for me, I'm just happy that Representative Steve Womack's amendment never made it through the process. Womack, a Republican from Arkansas, was going to introduce an amendment that would prohibit federal funds from being used to buy and maintain teleprompters for President Obama. He said it would save $5 million, but he withdrew the amendment because that estimate never got an official scoring from the Congressional Budget Office. Womack's explanation? "We're asking people to do more with less. And I think the president ought to lead by example. He is already a very gifted speaker. And I think that's one platform he could do without."

As a professional in this area, I might have found my own cause célèbre. I can't speak to withholding aid to Chad (#424), or the whether the Florida Water Quality Standards are onerous (#13). I'll defer to others as to EPA Guidelines on surface coal mining (#109), and whether or not we should continue to pay for the Klamath Dam Removal and Sedimentation Study (#296). In those areas and others, I'll let people with firsthand knowledge guide me.

However, I've seen speakers... gifted, smart, knowledgeable people, with great stage presence and good public speaking skills... try and give a concise message without a prompter, and let me tell you, it's not pretty. Obama is all those things. But if we're going to go to war with somebody or back a new democracy movement, I want him reading from a script. We've got enough problems without a slip of the tongue. Ronald Reagan may be a hero to the right, but remember his, "We begin bombing in five minutes" line? That's what ad libs get you. Five million? For my money, it would be cheap at twice the price.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is waiting to see who in Congress blinks first. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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