Well, that didn’t take long. Shortly after Republicans took over the U.S. House of Representatives, Dennis Rehberg voted with his party leaders to change the rules of the House. And wouldn’t you know it, the rules are already under attack… from the left and the right.
Under the new rules, Republicans replaced the traditional “Pay-as-you-go” Rule (meaning if a bill costs money, you have to either cut money elsewhere, or raise money somewhere else) with a gimmick called the “Cut-as-you-go” Rule (meaning every bill that costs money has to be paid for by cuts elsewhere).
Much of the controversy has to do with the fact that Dennis Rehberg and his party bosses in the House have already carved out some loopholes in their Cut-as-you-go Rule:
- All tax cuts are exempt from their rule, even if those tax cuts would increase the deficit by trillions of dollars
- Any bill repealing health care reform is exempt from their rule. As the Hill reports, that means the Republican repeal bill doesn’t have to make up for the $143 billion the health care reform law is estimated to save taxpayers over the next decade or the $455 billion the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the repeal would cost taxpayers. This cost is pretty inconvenient for House Republicans, so they decided to make up their own budget estimates… and make an exception to the rule.
Even the conservative Taxpayers for Common Sense says the Cut-as-you-go rule “takes a weak budget balancing tool and makes it weaker.”
And as the conservative American Enterprise Institute reports points out, Dennis Rehberg’s new rules also gives the chairman of the House Budget Committee the power to “unilaterally create spending and revenue limits and caps by committee and enact them simply by publishing them in the Congressional Record.”
From the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein:
“This is breathtaking: [The rule] demolishes the Congressional budget process in one fell swoop, and it takes away the accountability, openness and deliberation that a regular budget process provides. This is the opposite of accountability; Members, by voting in lockstep to enact a package of rules, will implicitly vote for a budget they have never seen. It will be binding in the House. When individual appropriations come up, any proposal that changes the edicts of Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) by restoring cuts in spending will be ruled out of order. Dramatic and Draconian budget cuts without votes or debate. That is the new open and deliberative House?”
Well, so much for transparency.
Oh, and here’s some more small print: the rules will make it a whole lot easier to cut highway funding. As Rehberg himself said, “providing new and safer routes to get from one town to the next is crucial, especially in Montana’s rural communities.” But the new rule he just voted for makes it easier to cut highway funding by ending the requirement that House appropriators (ahem, Rehberg) fund highways at levels set by highway authorization bills.