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Line Item Budgeting
Posted by: Jon Henke on Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Yesterday, I wrote about Democratic Virginia Governor Mark Warner legislating through the budget, and Republican pique at his end-around. Commenters generally agreed that the budget should not be used as a tool of policy creation. (though I wish some liberal commenters would have weighed in)

I brought that up because, while Virginia Republicans decry legislating-by-budget, Washington Republicans are somewhat less opposed to it.
[Republican Alaska Senator Ted] Stevens has tucked [drilling for oil in ANWR] into a bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And while Virginia Democrats slip policy legislation into the budget, Washington Democrats don't seem to have gotten the memo...
Angry Democrats say the effort to push ANWR through as part of the defense bill will break the rules and set a horrible precedent. "It shows that ... if the rules are inconvenient, then just overrule them," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

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.

If we'd like to restrain the growth of government—or, to be bipartisan about it, to restrain the undue activism of politicians—the only solution is to enact structural changes in the way the budget is made.

Line Item Budgeting


A Line Item Budget would break down each earmark, rider and spending category into what amounts to a unique bill. Instead of forcing Congressmen to choose between voting for a $50 million indoor rainforest in Iowa or rejecting the Transportation bill in toto, they would be forced to vote for the $50 million indoor rainforest on its merits alone. And on the merits of highway repair, Alaskan bridges, cricket research, etc.

Let every item get a majority vote on its own merits, or let it fail.

The Line Item Veto has already been ruled unconstitutional and, while it might make a more constitutionally tolerable comeback, it doesn't really deal with the Congressional incentive to play Calvinball with the budget. Line Item Budgeting, on the other hand, would force Representatives and Senators to be personally accountable for every single earmark, rider and expenditure in each bill.

If the Republican Party wants the ongoing support of fiscal conservatives and libertarians, structural change like Line Item Budgeting would go a very long way towards gaining it.

And if the Republican Party isn't interested, the Democrats are always welcome to make their own bid for the support of libertarians and limited government proponents. If Democrats made Line Item Budgeting a real part of their policy agenda, I suspect that libertarians and fiscal conservatives would abandon the Republican Party en masse.
 
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It’s a good idea. It would also slow down the pace of legislation. If they have to deliberate each and every piece of crap, they might be less inclined to include it.

 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
A major party - Dem or Republican - who made Line Item Budgeting a REAL part of their policy agenda (as opposed to paying lip service to it) probably would get a long look of interest from me.

Add in seriousness about national security and a candidate who was serious about both those things...
 
Written By: Dave
URL: http://
I thought your "$50 million indoor rainforest" remark was a parody of pork. Then I noticed there was a link.
 
Written By: Bitter
URL: http://qando.net/
Line item budgeting makes so much sense that it would be the death knell of pork.

Therefore, it will never pass.
 
Written By: OrneryWP
URL: http://
According to Wikipedia, "all but seven states allow the line-item veto. The exceptions are Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont." (emphasis mine)
So if the LIV hasn’t stopped the swelling of state governments, would the LIB, really? Have we seen it in place in any government?
 
Written By: Wulf
URL: http://www.atlasblogged.com
Wulf, the improvement of the LIB over the LIV is that it doesn’t depend on the executive actively watching everything congress does, and being willing to piss off his own party by using his veto. The the incentive structure of the LIB is much better because it creates a prisoner’s dilemma for congresscritters—all of them individually would now have more incentive to vote against pork for other states, even if collectively they might benefit more if they didn’t.

Jon, I think this is a really important idea that ought to be able to get support across the board from anyone who isn’t a politico. What do you think we can do to get this idea circulating in the public dicussion? I would start with talking to Glenn Reynolds and NZ Bear about it, since they’re leading the "porkbusters" charge and all. What would be best is getting someone like John Tierney to use his big megaphone to push this idea into the public consciousness. We need this to bubble up into the big leagues.
 
Written By: Matt McIntosh
URL: http://conjecturesandrefutations.net
So if the LIV hasn’t stopped the swelling of state governments, would the LIB, really? Have we seen it in place in any government?
As Matt indicates, the LIB takes care of some public choice theory problems that LIV does not. I’m not particularly optimistic that a LIV would have much effect, except in some circumstances in which gridlock already puts the executive and legislative branch at loggerheads AND there’s enough political capital on each side that they can afford to pick a fight. A LIB generalizes that circumstance.
What do you think we can do to get this idea circulating in the public dicussion? ... We need this to bubble up into the big leagues.
I agree. I’ll make some contacts. Suggestions are welcomed.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
If Democrats made Line Item Budgeting a real part of their policy agenda, I suspect that libertarians and fiscal conservatives would abandon the Republican Party en masse.
Almost on point. The Democrats would have to actually pass such policy, and abandon their ridiculous support for labor unions. Then I might consider leaving the Republican Party.
 
Written By: David Earney
URL: http://www.daves-not-here.net

 
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