Ryan S. Walters | @ryanswalters73
Federal spending has exploded in recent years, with our national debt climbing past $18.1 trillion as 2015 dawned. State spending in Mississippi has also climbed, with a debt amounting to more than $15 billion. That’s over $5,000 per citizen.
Although the power of the purse is in the hands of Congress and the state legislatures, our executives do have a significant role to play to help to curb spending.
Aside from the regular veto power that Presidents and Governors use far too sparingly, chief executives possess other weapons to combat some of the wasteful spending that is often hidden within important bills – impoundment and the line item veto.
First, let’s look at impoundment. Even though a liberal US Supreme Court erroneously stuck down the federal impoundment power in the 1975 case Train v. City of New York, the principle is no less valid and constitutional. Chief executives must uphold their constitutional oath of office and faithfully execute the laws, especially when it comes to unconstitutional spending. Early Presidents believed they had as much right to interpret the Constitution as did the Supreme Court and the took that responsibility seriously.
The first use of impoundment came in 1803, when Congress appropriated $50,000, a rather large amount in those days, to purchase small gunboats for use on the Mississippi River. President Jefferson, always mindful that he was dealing with the people’s money rather than his own, believed that such an appropriation was pointless since the French threats in the west had abated. So rather than spend the money unnecessarily, as modern politicians would have done, he impounded the funds, refusing to disperse them from the treasury.
And for the next 175 years, Presidents used this tool to help control spending and stop needless, wasteful projects.
Another tool is the line item veto. Although most governors have a line item veto, the President does not. And he sorely needs it to stop runaway spending that grows year by year. In 1789, during the very first Congress, federal spending amounted to $1 for every person in the United States. By 1910 it had grown to $6.75 per citizen. Today it has exploded to $12,000 for every man, woman, and child, and $28,500 for every household, a staggering amount that is set to reach $34,600 within a decade.
Currently, the federal treasury brings in record amounts of revenue, a trend that has continued for the past several years, so the trouble is not with revenue. The problem is over-spending.
And the spending is as silly as it has ever been. In 2014 our federal government spent $865,000, of our hard-earned tax dollars, to train mountain lions to walk on treadmills, $387,000 to give Swedish massages to rabbits, $171,000 to study how monkeys gamble, $392,000 to study how humans would react to contact with extraterrestrials, and $800,000 to create a video game about kiddie food fights. In every budget there are hundreds of examples at least as outrageous. These could easily be killed with a line item veto. Though some may argue that these appropriations are a drop in the bucket, the tax money extracted from working class Americans is certainly no drop in their bucket.
Sadly, though, it seems quite obvious that Congress has no stomach to stop it. In the last 20 years both Republicans and Democrats have controlled Congress but the spending has continued unabated and respect for taxpayers seems to be non-existent.
Congressional Republicans, who portray themselves as the friends of the taxpayers, have had numerous opportunities to reduce spending in past years, most of which failed to materialize. For example, in 1995 the GOP-led Congress promised to eliminate 95 programs in the Contract with America, but by the year 2000 not only were all 95 programs still intact, they had grown by at least 13 percent. We cannot allow this to happen again with the new Republican Congress, though that seems to be the track they are on.
To help with their addictive spending, Congress gave the President a line item veto power in 1996, which President Clinton used 82 times. However, the US Supreme Court rightly struck down the law because the Constitution cannot be changed with a congressional act. So either Congress or the people in convention must pass a constitutional amendment to provide the President with this valuable tool.
The Governor of Mississippi also possesses both of these important powers, yet rarely uses them. And there is plenty of wasteful spending within the state budget for Governor Bryant to cancel. Let’s hope he does so.
With state and presidential elections coming up in the next two years, we should be mindful that we need responsible executives. We need a Republican President who will not shy away from using the veto pen to cancel unnecessary spending bills, even from a Republican Congress. For if Congress and the legislatures won’t stop spending, and the executives won’t either, our fiscal future is bleak.