This will come as a shock to those who believe the only significant news in recent weeks has been the Benghazi, IRS and AP/Fox News intimidation scandals, but there have been some significant developments on other issues. Consider the May 14 "Dear Colleague" letter by Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona. One sentence in particular stands out: "We, therefore, are notifying you of our intention to object to the consideration of any legislation that fails to meet any of the following standards:"
» All new spending must be offset with cuts to lower-priority spending. The most egregious failure of recent Congresses and presidents has been failing to set priorities in the federal budget. As the five explain, "Congress authorizes billions of dollars in new spending every year to create new government programs or expand existing ones. Yet, few bills are passed to eliminate outdated, duplicative, unnecessary, inefficient, wasteful, or low-priority programs."
» Government programs must be periodically reviewed and renewed. If the program isn't doing what it was established to do, fix it or terminate it. What could more reasonable? Who can argue with, as the five senators say, including for every federal spending initiative "a 'sunset' date at which point Congress must decide whether or not to update, extend, and end the program"?
» Duplicative government programs must be consolidated or eliminated. Again, what could be more reasonable than the federal government having, for example, one job training program, not 76? But when was the last time Congress and the president acted on bills, as these five senators put it, "to eliminate outdated, duplicative, unnecessary, inefficient, wasteful, or low-priority programs"?
» The cost and text of bills must be available prior to passage. Too often, Congress passes bills with thousands of pages of spending instructions without ever reading them. The way to stop such fecklessness, according to the five senators, is to require that "all legislation must be publicly available in an electronic format for at least three full days along with a cost estimate completed by the Congressional Budget Office prior to being passed."
» Congress must not infringe upon the constitutional rights of the people. The national debt is $17 trillion and soaring because Congress and the president insist on regulating everything from how many grams of fat Americans eat each day to what they can do with puddles of water that happen to occur on their property. Washington must stick to doing only what the Constitution empowers it to do.
One letter sent to other lawmakers cannot guarantee that bad bills will now be stopped cold, but surely the Senate will be forced to do what it has done too little of in recent years, namely, devote serious and sustained attention to the details of federal spending. Readers who live in states other than Arizona, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wisconsin should ask both of their senators if they've signed on to this letter yet and if not, why not?