Fiscal Responsibility at the Forefront of McCarthy’s Speaker of the House Bid

It took 15 votes, but Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was elected by the incoming 118th Congress as the next Speaker of the House of Representatives.

It took that many votes because McCarthy faced a rebellion from more conservative members of his caucus. With a small majority in the House, McCarthy needed every vote he could get from the caucus to wield the Speaker’s gavel. Through 14 previous ballots, he failed to get the support of these members.

Ultimately, he got their votes by cutting a deal and agreeing to multiple concessions at the price of his new power. The most far-reaching of these concessions involved reducing his power to engage in the kind of fiscal irresponsibility that ran rampant under the leadership of the 117th Congress. John Levine and Mary Kay Linge of the New York Post have the full story, but here is their summary of McCarthy’s major concessions:

    • A promise for guaranteed votes on pet issues, like a balanced budget amendment, and term limits, a Texas border plan, and an end to all remaining coronavirus mandates and funding.
    • A new committee to investigate the alleged weaponization of the FBI against its political foes. The committee would be modeled on the Church Committee, which investigated U.S. intelligence agencies in 1975. It would have a budget comparable to the recently disbanded Jan. 6 Committee.
    • More single-subject bills to allow members to vote on specific, narrow issues instead of thousand-page pork barrel behemoths.
    • A 72-hour window for members to read any new bill before it can be voted on.
    • A promise to refuse any increase in the debt ceiling in the next federal budget agreement.

I counted nine policy items in this short list, four of which will have a positive impact by reining in President Biden’s runaway spending. With 2020’s coronavirus pandemic in the past, it’s long past time to end the government COVID costly mandates. It’s also long past time to bring the government’s spending as a percent of GDP back down to pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, replacing bloated omnibus spending bills with single-subject bills removes the previous Congress’ leadership’s greatest abuse of fiscal power. Providing 72 hours to read these bills before they’re voted upon is just plain common sense. More importantly, that part of the deal provides the time needed to either fix or stop bad spending bills before Congress’ leaders can cram them through with false urgency.

Two other items in this list could produce positive fiscal results but won’t. A vote on a balanced budget amendment in the House won’t make it happen anytime soon. A refusal to include a debt ceiling increase in the next budget agreement only means Congress will have separate votes to increase it. Neither of these concessions improves how Washington D.C. does business.

For now, the new Congress is starting with a better chance to produce better fiscal policy. All the rest and what happens next, as they say, is politics.

Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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