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Introduction of Stimulating Leadership in Cutting Expenditures ("SLICE") Act

Location: Washington, DC


* Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Madam Speaker, I disagree with President Bush on a number of things, but we agree that a constitutionally-sound version of a line-item veto could help increase fiscal responsibility and Congressional accountability.

* In fact, I first introduced such legislation even before the president first proposed it, and last year I joined in helping win House passage of a line-item veto bill.

* Unfortunately, the Senate did not complete action on that bill before the end of the 109th Congress.

* So, I am today again introducing a similar measure--the ``Stimulating Leadership in Cutting Expenditure, or ``SLICE' Act of 2007, cosponsored by Representative RYAN of Wisconsin.

* Over the last 6 years we've seen a dramatic change in the Federal budget--a change for the worse. We've gone from budget surpluses to big deficits, and from reducing the national debt to increasing the ``debt tax' on our children.

* There's no mystery about how this happened.

* Partly, it was caused by a recession. Partly, it was caused by the increased spending needed for national defense, homeland security, and fighting terrorism. And in part it was caused by excessive and unbalanced tax cuts the president pushed for and the Republican-led Congress passed.

* Some of those tax cuts--for example, eliminating the marriage penalty, fixing the 10 percent bracket and extending child care tax credits--were good. I supported them because they gave a reasonable boost for the economy and increased the fairness of the tax laws. But overall they were excessive.

* Many of us warned against reducing the surplus so recklessly. We urged the administration and Congress to be more responsible, and we voted for Blue Dog budget resolutions that would have set a better course.

* But our pleas for restraint were ignored, and since the attacks of 9/11--which led to increased spending on homeland security, a military response in Afghanistan, and a war in Iraq--the budget has nosedived from surplus into deep deficit. And, even in the face of national emergency, neither the president nor the Republican-led Congress has called on Americans for any sacrifice, and instead of temporarily scaling back some of the tax cuts the president has insisted on making all of them permanent even as Federal spending has skyrocketed.

* So we have gone on putting the costs of war and everything else the government does on the national credit card--but the debt is owed not just to ourselves (as in the past), but to China, Japan and other foreign countries.

* Why have we allowed things to get so far out of hand?

* Part of the answer is that budget and tax policy in Washington has been so captive to very partisan and extreme ideological voices that it has been hard to find common ground and moderate consensus.

* Even in this time of war, extremists in the Republican Party view tax cuts as almost a religious calling, while some in my party tend to reject any spending cuts. And the Vice President has dismissed complaints by saying ``deficits don't matter.'

* But this cannot go on forever. Sooner or later, something has to give. And, if the result is a new sense of responsibility, sooner is better--because there is an urgent need to rethink and revise our budget policies, including both taxes and spending.

* Last year, the House did belatedly take one step forward, by passing a bill similar to the ``SLICE' bill I am introducing today.

* And already this year, under our new leadership, the House has taken another good step by restoring the ``PAYGO' rules that helped bring the budget into balance in the past--something the Republican leadership refused to even consider last year.

* But I think we also should take the step of again passing a constitutionally-sound line-item veto--like SLICE--because it also can help to promote transparency and accountability about spending.

* We have heard a lot of talk about spending ``earmarks'--meaning spending based on proposals by Members of Congress instead of the

Administration. And here, too, the new leadership of the House has made possible important changes in our rules that will increase their transparency and our accountability--changes I supported.

* But while some people are opposed to all earmarks, I am not one of them.

* I think Members of Congress know the needs of their communities, and I think Congress as a whole has the responsibility to decide how tax dollars are spent. And earmarks can help fund nonprofits and other private-sector groups to do jobs that federal agencies are not able to do as well. In short, not all earmarks are bad. In fact, I have sought earmarks for various items that have benefited Coloradans--and I intend to keep on doing that.

* Still, we all know some bills have included spending earmarks that might not have been approved if they were considered separately.

* That's why President Bush--like many of his predecessors--has asked for the kind of line-item veto that can be used by governors in Colorado and several other states.

* And that's why about ten years ago Congress actually passed a law intended to give President Clinton that kind of authority.

* However, in 1998 the Supreme Court ruled that the legislation was unconstitutional--and I think the Court got it right.

* I think by trying to allow the president to in effect repeal a part of a law he has already signed--and saying it takes a two-thirds vote in both Houses of Congress to restore that part--that Republican-led Congress of 1998 went too far. I think that kind of line-item veto would undermine the checks and balances between the Executive and Legislative branches of the government.

* But the SLICE bill is different. It is a practical, effective--and, best of all, constitutional--version of a line-item veto.

* It is not unprecedented. It follows the approach of legislation passed by the House of Representatives in 1993 under the leadership of our distinguished colleague, Representative SPRATT and others, including our former colleagues Charlie Stenholm, Tom Carper, Tim Penny and John Kasich.

* Under SLICE, the president could identify specific spending items he thinks should be cut--and Congress would have to vote, up or down, on whether to cut each of them.

* Current law says the president can ask Congress to rescind--that is, cancel--spending items. But Congress can ignore those requests, and often has done so.

* SLICE would change that.

* It says if the president proposes a specific cut, Congress can't duck--it would have to vote on it, and if a majority approved the cut, that would be that.

* So, it would give the president a bright spotlight of publicity he could focus on earmarks, and it would force Congress to debate those items on their merits.

* That would give the president a powerful tool--but it also would retain the balance between the Executive and Legislative branches.

* Madam Speaker, presidents are elected to lead, and only they represent the entire nation. My SLICE bill recognizes this by giving the president the leadership role of identifying specific spending items he thinks should be cut.

* But, under the Constitution it is the Congress that is primarily accountable to the American people for how their tax dollars will be spent. The bill respects and emphasizes that Congressional role by requiring a vote on each spending cut proposed by the President.

* Of course, without knowing what the president might propose to rescind, I don't know if I would support some, all, or any of his proposals.

* But I do know that people in Colorado and across the country think there should be greater transparency about our decisions on taxing and spending. And I know that they are also demanding that we be ready to take responsibility for those decisions.

* That is the purpose of this bill. It will promote both transparency and accountability, and I think it deserves the support of all our colleagues.

* For the information of our colleague, I am attaching an outline of the bill.STIMULATING LEADERSHIP IN CUTTING EXPENDITURES (SLICE) ACT

The purpose of the bill is to facilitate Presidential leadership and Congressional accountability regarding reduction of other spending to offset the costs of responding to recent natural disasters.

The bill would amend the Budget Act to provide as follows--

The President could propose rescission of any budget authority provided in an appropriations Act through special messages including draft bills to make those rescissions.

The House's majority leader or minority leader would be required to introduce a bill proposed by the president within two legislative days. If neither did so, any Member could then introduce the bill.

The Appropriations Committee would be required to report the bill within seven days after introduction. The report could be made with or without recommendation regarding its passage. If the committee did not meet that deadline, it would be discharged and the bill would go to the House floor.

The House would debate and vote on each proposed rescission within 10 legislative days after the bill's introduction. Debate would be limited to no more than four hours and no amendment, motion to recommit, or motion to reconsider would be allowed.

If passed by the House, the bill would go promptly to the Senate, which would have no more than 10 more days to consider and vote on it. Debate in the Senate would be limited to 10 hours and no amendment or motion to recommit would be allowed.

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