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Minnick legislation targets earmarks

by Tom Hasslinger
| April 6, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Walt Minnick wants to ban earmarks.

He also wants to give the president the power to edit appropriation bills line by line, should the Commander in Chief find some spending superfluous.

The goal is to save money, said Minnick, Idaho's 1st District Congressman, because if America keeps driving up its debt it could follow Greece as the next country to declare bankruptcy.

"Now it's real. It's no longer theoretical, and we don't have a Germany to bail us out," Minnick said Friday during a visit to Coeur d'Alene.

To help get spending under control, Minnick is introducing a pair of bills, including the Budget Enforcement Legislative Tool, or BELT Act, which would let the president edit out spending proposals on appropriation bills.

Appropriation bills authorize the government to spend money. Currently, when one hits the president's desk for approval, he can either sign it into law or veto the whole thing.

That all-or-nothing approach has been used as a vehicle for politicians to tack on special projects knowing that those details won't prevent the whole bill from passing, Minnick said.

Now, if H.R. 4921 is adopted, the president will be able to kick them off.

"It takes out the bridges to nowhere," Minnick said of the pet projects that get tacked on, adding that such a measure isn't on the book because "we really like to spend money, we like earmarks, and we like the ability to tack on pet projects in ways that make it hard for them to get knocked out."

Under the bill, the president would have three days to submit a list of proposed budget cuts to the appropriate bill. Congress would then vote "yes" or "no" on each suggested deletion. It would also allow the president to reduce an authorized program's budget in the bill by 25 percent.

The bill meets constitutional muster because those line item edits would then go back to the Congress where the spending bills originate.

Such a cost-saving measure is especially necessary now, Minnick said, because the federal deficit has doubled in eight years to $10 trillion.

"We are, in my opinion, setting ourselves up to be the next Greece," he said.

By accumulating so much debt, foreign investors such as China could lose confidence in the American market and sell their holdings. That could trigger others to do the same, and the resulting fire-sale would weaken the dollar dramatically, he said.

"The only way we can prevent that is to get back to paying for what we spend," he said.

As part of the Blue Dog Coalition, Minnick has teamed up on a number of budget saving proposals, including supporting a balanced budget constitutional amendment.

Minnick's other bill, H.R. 1177, proposes to ban earmarks.

Earmarks are legislative provisions that direct approved funds to be spent on specific projects, which Minnick said take potential projects out of the competitive bidding pool.

They're also used as a way to gain favors among politicians, and Minnick called them "a poor way to spend taxpayer money."

Both bills have yet to be scheduled for discussion.

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