Hold Onto Your Wallets

Marc Kilmer Jan 2, 2013

When the 113th Congress convenes in January, Maryland’s own Barbara Mikulski will ascend to the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee. What can we expect of our state’s senior senator when she assumes outsized responsibility for the Senate’s spending? Given her record, it’s clear that those of us who favor fiscal responsibility will not be pleased with her tenure.

For those who don’t know, the Appropriations Committee is the committee responsible for allocating spending across the 12 appropriations bills that are, in theory, passed by Congress to fund the government (I say “in theory” because in recent years Congress has passed either continuing resolutions or omnibus spending bills). The chairman of the committee has great power to decide what funds get spent where and how much taxpayer money flows to various government agencies.

David Boaz of the Cato Institute sums up the problems with Chairman Mikulski:

She has the worst rating I’ve ever seen from the National Taxpayers Union: She earned an F every single year from 1992 through 2011 on “support for reducing spending and opposing higher taxes.”  Some years she is 98th or 99th in the Senate at protecting taxpayers, and such a ranking may well mean that she tied with other big spenders for the worst record.

As for taxes, I’ve written before that there are many theories of taxation, but the one that best explains the behavior of Congress is the theory most clearly enunciated in 1990 by Mikulski: “Let’s go and get it from those who’ve got it.”

Fasten your seatbelts, taxpayers, it’s going to be a bumpy year.

This committee would be a prime spot for fiscal conservatives to exercise some influence in slowing government spending. Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats use their post on this committee to advocate for narrow parochial interests. No one tries to cut spending or even reduce its growth; they simply try to steer more spending towards their home state or towards government programs they like.

I speak from experience, since I worked on appropriations issues for a senator on the Appropriations Committee a decade ago. I saw firsthand how Republicans and Democrats worked together to increase spending and drive our nation into the fiscal crises that face us. What the Senate needs now is to have a champion of spending restraint heading the Appropriations Committee. Barbara Mikulski is the wrong person for the job. Unfortunately, we’ll all be paying the price for the big spending decisions she makes in her new position.