Morgan Griffith: A real chance to cut spending

morgan griffithA saying often attributed to the late Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) goes, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” It’s a warning about how easily government spending can spiral out of control. But through a special procedure called rescission, Congress may soon make targeted cuts here or there that, while modest, amount to real savings.

On May 8, President Trump submitted to Congress a rescission package proposing $15.4 billion in targeted cuts to enacted spending. The law requires Congress to act on rescissions within 45 days and forbids the Senate from using its modern 60-vote filibuster rule to stop them.

Rescissions are a useful tool for protecting taxpayer dollars. President Trump’s $15.4 billion is the largest rescission package proposed since this authority was first given to the chief executive in 1974, but both Democrat and Republican presidents have exercised their power to offer cuts.

Most of the funds are from accounts which haven’t been touched for years or were authorized for purposes which are now outdated. Saving $4.3 billion from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which has only made five loans in its history and not one since 2011, should be an easy call. The same goes for saving $252 million that was authorized specifically in response to an Ebola epidemic that the World Health Organization declared ended in 2016. Cuts such as these make up the rescission package.

The fact that these rescissions don’t target active spending has not stopped some Democrats from bemoaning them, as they seem to do whenever fiscal discipline is proposed. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that rescissions will take away billions of dollars from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

I am glad to know that Democrats now want to protect CHIP, considering that they voted against reauthorizing it multiple times over the past year. But their claims about what rescission would mean for CHIP just don’t hold up.

The rescissions to CHIP put forward by the Trump Administration are from parts of the program that are either expired or no longer needed. CHIP was recently extended for ten years, the longest extension ever passed. They will have no impact on the program’s effectiveness. No child will have his or her health insurance diminished by the rescissions.

Rather than cut spending and send the money back to the Treasury Department, Democrats would prefer to keep these unspent, unused funds for future gimmicks. They want to use them in the future to claim that they pay for spending increases elsewhere.

Notwithstanding the recent omnibus that spent $1.3 trillion dollars, they want to reserve these funds to pay for more spending.

When there is money to be spent, the natural inclination in Washington is to spend it. I am reminded of the story from the comedian Jerry Clower about a dinner at the Ledbetter house where one last piece of chicken remained on the table. No one wanted to make a move to take it for himself. Suddenly, the lights went out and the dining room turned dark. When the lights came back on, where that piece of chicken was, there was also now Uncle Versie’s hand with five forks stuck in it.

Just about everyone in Washington treats taxpayer money like that last piece of chicken, wanting to grab it for their own purposes when no one is watching. Rescission is a small attempt to fight back against this tendency, which has led to the $21 trillion debt we now possess.

Washington has a dire spending problem, and $15.4 billion in cuts will not solve it. But if we can’t even start by cutting unused or expired funds, how will we ever address the larger problems threatening our fiscal future? After all, a billion here and a billion there starts to add up to real money.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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