Going slow on extending term limits to members of Congress does not mean easing up on public pressure for discipline in government spending. To the contrary, the continued threat of limits should beam a constant message to members of Congress: steady on restraint.
The turnover already taking place in the House and Senate is having an unexpected benefit. Long-term incumbents are being exposed to a markedly different style in legislating and dispensing tax dollars. The new wave of reform politicians appears to be more tightfisted than its predecessors. Good role models for their seniors.
The National Taxpayers Union Foundation recently found in its computerized Congressional Budget Tracking System that nearly half (48 percent) of freshman members of Congress have sponsored legislation that in NTUF’s judgment would reduce spending. According to the foundation, “members serving three years or less were primarily responsible for an explosion of spending reduction bills offered in 1993.”
Their most notable product was the Penny-Kasich amendment, a bi-partisan proposal to cut spending by $90 billion over five years.
New members of the House drafted 38 percent of the spending-reduction bills in that chamber and just 13 percent of the bills containing new spending. First-term senators did even better, crafting 42 percent of the bills with cuts and a mere 5 percent of those with increases.
The bad news is that these representatives and senators remain in the minority, and that in the aggregate, the Congress remains a factory of spending proposals. NTUF totaled the bills in the House and Senate and found after weeding out overlapping legislation that if everything slid through, new spending would be increased $870 billion by the House and $587 billion by the Senate.
But the culture in Congress will change, permanently, as more of its members are elected with the belief in temporary service, loyalty but not blind obedience to party and a fundamental obligation to be responsible custodians of the public purse. The early returns indicate that is the trend.