Steve Chapman

Not until he had been in office for more than six years did he veto a bill because it cost too much. Bill Clinton may feel your pain, but next to his successor, he looked like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Boehner, far from throwing himself in the path of the spending locomotive, was shoveling coal into the boiler. For him to call someone a spendthrift is like Tiger Woods calling someone a skank.

Obama’s plan for this portion of the budget is pitifully modest. But it’s clearly better to cap it than enlarge it, which is what has been done in the recent past. Since 2001, the expenditures subject to the proposed limit have grown from $310 billion to $447 billion.

Republicans are making fun of Obama for trying to freeze a type of spending that they helped increase. They should repent, on the ground that since $310 billion was good enough for Clinton, it ought to be good enough for Obama.

If the GOP really wants to highlight the administration’s budgetary excesses, the right response is not to merely ridicule how little he offers in the way of savings, but to offer bigger and better savings of their own. Otherwise, they may find that the public disgust with runaway spending can scorch incumbent Republicans as well as incumbent Democrats.

There is a shimmering precedent for this approach. After Republicans took control of Congress in 1995, they demanded a plan to balance the budget within seven years. President Clinton didn’t like it, but he was forced to cooperate.

Soon the parties were competing in the Tightwad Olympics. Lo and behold, the budget was balanced -- not in seven years but in three.

Can Republicans come up with a genuine plan to contain federal spending? Would that move force Obama to get serious about fiscal discipline? There is only one way to find out.

Let the bidding begin.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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