Robert Bluey

Sen. Jim DeMint is as frustrated as anyone on Capitol Hill about Congress’s failure to wrap up work on the federal budget. With 11 of the 12 appropriations bills unfinished and U.S. troops in need of funding, DeMint sees the next couple weeks as a make-or-break period for lawmakers intent on steering Congress back toward fiscal restraint.

The South Carolina Republican has a simple plan to save taxpayers $31 billion. He wants Congress to pass a continuing resolution, rather than adopt a massive omnibus spending bill.

DeMint’s idea goes back to the end-game strategy that Republicans successfully employed last year after their disastrous showing in the November elections. Rather than try to push appropriations bills through a Congress filled with newly energized (and antagonistic) liberals, the GOP leadership opted simply to reauthorize funding at fiscal 2006 levels. The move not only skirted rancorous proceedings, but it also held spending in check and dramatically cut pork-barrel projects.

Following that same strategy this year would save taxpayers $31 billion, according to DeMint’s calculations, which take into account new spending proposed by Democrats and thousands of earmarks. DeMint pegs the Democrats’ total spending proposal at $954 billion. A continuing resolution, however, would top out at $923 billion. Here’s how DeMint described it during a meeting at the Heritage Foundation last week:

“Last year we were able to stop the omnibus and get a continuing resolution, which meant the government is operating on Republican priorities. We didn’t change social policies; we didn’t fund new Democrat programs last year. And if we had another continuing resolution this year, we would, in effect, go into our second year of not shifting a lot of this funding toward Democrat priorities.”

There’s only one problem. Senate Republicans might stand in his way. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a veteran appropriator, told National Journal’s CongressDaily last week, “Given the lack of time available, the best way to deal with the troop funding issue would be in the context of some kind of settlement on an overall omnibus appropriation bill.”

That’s what worries DeMint. He fears that his Republican colleagues, after fighting for fiscal responsibility throughout much of 2007, might be tempted to take the Democrats’ bait and vote for the massive omnibus and troop funding bill as the year draws to a close.

Robert Bluey

Robert B. Bluey is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation and maintains a blog at