Paul Jacob

This became a big issue in late December. Mark Tapscott, editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner, alerted his readers to the issue repeatedly; there was great Internet buzz. But the buzz didn't yield an immediate and unequivocal response from the White House.

What the president is thinking, I don't know. He's played mum. But there's certainly been talk about this behind the scenes. A lot of people hope to hear something from Jim Nussle, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, "any day now."

Though anti-pork activists hailed the idea, Democrats have described it as all-out war between the branches of government.

And they have a point. The president, with his rash and too-frequent use of "signing statements," has not put himself in an ideal position to take on Congress, should congressional Democrats actually decide to defend their spending prerogatives, as they conceive them.

Further, the whole situation is eerily reminiscent of Nixon's latter days. Nixon also faced a Democratic Congress. And that Congress also spent money like a house afire. So he did the only responsible thing: he impounded increasing amounts of money that Congress directed be spent.

Impoundment seems ancient history now. In Nixon's time it was tradition and a live option. Thomas Jefferson had used it (he refused to spend money on building a navy, for instance; waste of money, he thought). And presidents had taken it as their duty from those days onward. If Congress couldn't control itself, and authorized money to be spent on this or that, the president, within his rights, simply didn't spend the money, "impounding" it, sending it back to Treasury coffers.

So the Democrats of Nixon's day cooked up a response. Nixon was weak, because of his extralegal activities vis-à-vis Watergate, and the Democrats concocted, as a cruel revenge, one of the worst bits of legislation in the history of the republic: 1974's Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act. Congress basically stripped the Executive Branch of the power to not spend money. And then, in the budget portion of the act, fixed the books with Enronesque flair, just so they could get away with spending money at an even greater clip.

Thus was sealed the fate of fiscal responsibility in the United States.

The Republicans never bothered, in their 1994 Contract-With-America heyday, to repeal the awful 1974 act, which would have given back the president something like a line-item veto on spending, and which would have brought honesty back into accounting.

And so they lost their grip. And now they gripe.

And offer council of political war.

If it's war, the first casualty would be wasteful spending, and on that subject, I am a hawk.

But I am curious what the second and third casualties would be.

Taking a larger view, the best thing to happen would for Congress to come clean, no longer earmark bills for spending projects, and go back to fiscal responsibility and full disclosure as the only honorable way to conduct the affairs of state.

But it didn't happen when the GOP got its taste for power, and the Democrats don't seem inclined to do the right thing, either.

So, will this president dare write up the Executive Order to ignore Congress's hidden, shameful spending?

Perhaps more importantly, would any of the Wannabes currently running for the office take up the cause?

It might be worth asking them.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.