Federal program managers may be breathing a little easier this afternoon after the Senate killed an amendment that would have ordered the Obama administration to zap at least $10 billion from this year’s budget.
Although the provision, sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., received a simple majority of 52 votes, that total fell short of the 60-vote supermajority needed to add it to a highway spending bill. Under the amendment, the Office of Management and Budget would have had to use its administrative authority to “eliminate, consolidate and streamline” duplicative and overlapping programs singled out by the Government Accountability Office in two reports over the last year. Within five months of the legislation’s enactment, OMB would have also had to join forces with affected agencies to rescind a minimum of $10 billion from such programs.
“Why would we not want to eliminate duplication?” Coburn asked in a speech on the Senate floor before the vote. “Why wouldn’t we want to become efficient and effective in terms of how we spend our children’s money?” But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, labeled the measure a backdoor attempt to lower discretionary spending caps approved as part of last August’s deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. The amendment was also redundant because “an existing rescission authority” is already in place, Inouye said.
In an after-the-vote statement, Coburn said the outcome shows “that the problem in Washington is not gridlock or partisanship, but incompetence. Senators have agreed to borrow and spend far beyond our means yet refuse to eliminate wasteful spending, even when another agency has done the hard work of oversight for them.”
The White House had not taken an official position. In an email after the vote, OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack said that President Obama is committed to ending wasteful duplication, as evidenced by GAO’s finding that the administration had made progress on many recommendations for Executive Branch action contained in its original report last year on duplicative and overlapping programs. And if Congress wants to act on duplication, Mack added, it can do so “right now” by approving legislation introduced last month to give the White House fast-track government reorganization authority. That measure, sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Ct., and Mark Warner, D-Va., is awaiting action by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. A hearing is scheduled for March 21, according to the committee’s web site.
Updated to reflect March 21 hearing date for reorganization bill