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Blame Congress for the GSA scandal

Published on -4/22/2012, 2:18 PM

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Who should we tar and feather for the scandalous spending spree at that General Services Administration "conference" in Nevada two years ago?

Whose fault is it a bunch of GSA bureaucrats wasted money on $44 breakfasts, a clown and a $75,000 bicycle-building exercise?

Not the GSA's bosses. Not the Obama administration. I pin the blame on Watergate and Congress.

This week Congressional hearings in Washington have been grilling past and current GSA officials about a $850,000 conference that blew thousands of dollars on things like a mind-reader and "yearbooks" and commemorative coins for the 300 participants.

Everyone from the president to Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California has expressed outrage at the GSA, which manages the federal government's property and purchases goods and services for other agencies.

But the source of this scandal isn't the GSA or its inattentive bosses. They were behaving badly, but they were only doing what they were supposed to -- spend every dime Congress gave their agency to spend.

The deeper problem is the way budget money has been allocated and spent by the federal government since the Watergate era. And it's a problem only Congress can fix.

You've probably never heard of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. Don't feel bad. Apparently, neither have the members of the 112th Congress.

The Impoundment Control Act was passed by Congress to punish Richard Nixon for Watergate. It effectively took away the long-standing power of the president to impound federal dollars even though they had been allocated by Congress.

Presidents since Jefferson had used their power to impound money, put it in a fund and spend it in a future fiscal year. Forty-three governors today have the same power to impound money their state Legislatures allocate.

For approximately 170 years, the president's impoundment power was an effective way to keep federal budgets balanced or to prevent Congress from spending money on dumb or unnecessary projects.

Then came Watergate and the Impoundment Control Act. Since then, Congress has given itself a blank check to spend money the government didn't have. Did it matter? Are you kidding?

In 1974, the federal budget deficit was $6.1 billion. One year after the Impoundment Control Act was made law, the deficit was $53 billion. By the time my father, Ronald Reagan, became president, it was $79 billion.

There's only one way to prevent future GSA scandals and end our massive budget deficits. Cut back the total amount of money the federal government spends.

Paul Ryan is right. When government agencies have enough money to spend on $850,000 junkets, we're putting too much money in their checkbooks.

So don't put the biggest blame on the GSA bureaucrats. Put it on Congress. It's Congress' job to slash the budget money the GSA and other bloated, overfunded and unnecessary federal agencies get in the first place.

Instead of holding hearings to see who can express the most outrage at the GSA's waste, Congress' spendthrifts should go back and read the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. Then they should repeal it.

Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant and the author of "The New Reagan Revolution" (St. Martin's Press, 2011). He is the founder and chairman of the Reagan Group and president of the Reagan Legacy Foundation.

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