Wednesday, February 17, 2016

John Kasich: 'He Was Right Dere In It!'

John Kasich, Governor of Ohio
We have written about how the Republicans on the House Budget Committee in 1993 started the ball rolling downhill towards balanced budgets from 1998-2001 in the past.

I was working as an associate on the House Budget Committee at the time with former Congressman Alex McMillan (R-NC9, Charlotte) who was serving as the 2nd-ranking Republican beside Ranking Minority Leader John Kasich of Ohio.

As Ernest T. Bass would brag to Ramona: 'I was right dere in it!'

(click through title link if you can't see the video clip; see quote at 3:17 in clip)

I mean, 'right dere in it' meaning sitting 3 feet away from John Kasich and his staff in every committee hearing plus hundreds upon hundreds of hours in conference rooms for 2 straight years.

The Budget Agreement of 1990 set the table and laid out the parameters for the process with the institution of PAYGO and hard spending caps on discretionary (non-entitlement and net interest) spending for the next decade.

But it was the efforts of the intrepid 16 GOP Members of the House Budget Committee in 1993 under the leadership of then Congressman John Kasich of Ohio which really set the course for the budgets to be balanced in the latter part of the last decade of the 20th century.

Since John Kasich is now running for President of these United States, we thought we would recount how he led this group of 16 Republicans in 1993 to come up with a solution to our over-spending problems.

If you are anything like us, you know that we have got to elect a President who will make balancing the budget an ultra-high priority during their first term, and possibly their second term.

John Kasich is the only one out of all remaining candidates on either side who has not just talked about doing it somehow some day.

He has actually done it.

In January, 1993, former Congressman Alex McMillan said he thought the House Budget Committee should do what any self-respecting business executive would do if they were facing a round of spending cuts which was to list them out specifically in line-item fashion for his executive team and board of directors to see.

This was quite a risk given that the Republicans were still in the minority after about 40 years. Revealing any or all of their proposed spending cuts might hurt their chances of ever winning the majority in the US House, which, in January of 1993, still seemed like a far-off pipe-dream.

After consulting with Congressman McMillan, John Kasich agreed and set about the task of finding $500 billion in spending cuts, eliminations and reductions from the baseline in the federal budget. The federal budget in FY 1993 was 'only' $1.15 trillion. John wanted the cuts to take place over a 5-year period which was the long-term budget time horizon back then as opposed to the 10-year time frames now considered normal by CBO and budget experts.

$500 billion in spending reductions, reforms etc. out of close to $7.4 trillion in spending over a 5-year period meant a 6.7% reduction from the baseline as established by CBO. Not a huge cut but a reduction from the status quo which always causes problems for proponents of higher federal spending.

John wanted to call this package 'Cutting Spending First' mainly because that is the only tried-and-true way to balance any budget: control spending before raising revenue simply because you can control spending.

Practical Solution #1: Practice what you preach. Do what you say you are gonna do.

John asked the committee of 16 members to sign up for various task forces they wanted to work on to find the cuts and spending programs among the thousands of programs in each broad general issue area. Defense/national security/foreign affairs was one of them; education/welfare/social services was another; Medicare/Medicaid/other federal health programs was another.

No one, and I mean, NO ONE, wanted the federal health care task force. So, of course, Congressman McMillan took it since he had a nose for spending control being a former CEO of Harris-Teeter Supermarkets.

We plowed through various publications such as 'Spending and Revenue Options' published annually by CBO. (Go ahead, click on the link yourself and take a look at the options yourself. They are not rocket science or advanced calculus problems)

We also met with staff of various authorizing committees to see where they may have tried to curtail spending in the past to no avail.

When we reconvened, John told everyone that we would discuss every option the task forces brought forward. After they were all presented, he would take a vote of the members on the committee as to which ones they would keep and which ones they would not keep.

On top of that, John said that the only proposals that would stay in the final package would be the ones where 60%+ of the members supported it. His reasoning was that if we couldn't get 60%+ of the Republicans to support the various measures, we were not going to be successful in getting any Democrats to support it in which case, the entire package was going nowhere since the Democrats still controlled the US House by 82 votes over the Republicans in 1993.

Practical solution #2. John Kasich knew the value of getting bipartisan support for any proposal or else it would be doomed to failure.

Over a period of months, we reconvened regularly to see what could be added to the package to get to $500 billion in spending reductions over 5 years. Congressman McMillan presented a list of changes to Medicare and Medicaid that amounted to $177 billion in spending savings over 5 years simply because any moderate reduction or policy change to either exploding program would yield enormous savings. For example, imposing a $3 co-pay on home health care visits saved tens of billions of dollars.

Everyone on the committee had to catch their breath and reach for some oxygen upon hearing of the $177 billion spending reductions in Medicare and Medicaid. 'That is close to 50% of our $500 billion target!' one member said.

'Of course it is!' Congressman McMillan replied. 'Entitlements are making up close to 40% of the budget (in 1993) as it is right now! Of course spending reductions from the 2 large federal health care programs are going to make up close to half of our savings! If we ignore entitlements, we will NEVER balance the budget!'

Eventually, we got to the $500 billion target with clearly defined policies and proposals that could be taken to each authorization and appropriation committee to introduce to various bills that session of Congress. There were some tough moments and some funny moments such as when former MLB Hall of Fame pitcher and then-Congressman and then-Senator Jim Bunning threatened bodily harm to 'anyone who touched the $500 million Appalachian Regional Commission budget!'

'Ok, Jim! Settle down! No need to throw a bean ball at anyone over this!' John said full-well knowing that Jim Bunning was well-known for the number of high-and-inside fastballs he threw that hit opposing hitters in the head during his long career in the major leagues.
Jim Bunning-160 Hit By Pitches

John introduced it in the House Budget Committee as an alternative to the Democrats budget in 1993. We got 15 of the 16 Republican votes on the committee, since Rick Lazio of New York bailed on us because he was already planning to run against Hillary Clinton in a US Senate race in New York far down the road apparently.

We got hammered in the committee by the 24 Democrats on the majority side.

John took it to the floor of the House where I think only 35 brave Republicans voted for the 100% pure spending reduction package. We came back again in 1994 and maybe got 75 votes then.

Practical Solution #3: John kept hammering in the House Budget Committee as the Chairman when the GOP took over control of Congress in 1994 for the first time since Ike was President.

Persistence is a virtue.

Congressman McMillan had decided to retire before they crossed over into the Promised Land in 1994 but John kept bringing up the core of 'Cutting Spending First' in the Budget Committee and on the floor of the House in 1995 and 1996 until, in 1997, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, Erskine Bowles, began meeting regularly with John and Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay to hammer out what became The Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

Which incorporated the vast bulk of 'Cutting Spending First' put forward in the spring of 1993.

Which led to the creation of the only balanced federal budgets most of us have had in our lifetimes in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Practical Solution #4: Getting results, versus promises and political bromides, is what we all want in our elected leaders, yes?

There is a myriad of reasons why people vote for some particular person to become our next US President. Some has to do with keeping our nation safe. Some has to do with social policies. Some has to do with just plain old likability factors such as Ronald Reagan over Walter Mondale or Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama over John McCain.

Our number one main issue has always been to elect an adult who can and will run our country in a sane, business-like, common-sense, fiscally responsible course. Balancing the budget is the paramount thing any sane person running for President should be able to do.

John Kasich is the only person running this year who has done it at the federal level. It is relatively 'easy' to do at the state level simply because states have constitutions that demand balanced budgets simply because states can't print their own currency or act like the Fed and make up money out of thin air to pay their bills.

We have absolutely no doubt that every single day in the White House during his term, John Kasich would wake up each and every morning brimming with energy and enthusiasm to find ways to reduce federal spending and make every single taxpayer dollar go as far as possible to meet our collective public policy goals and needs.

It is very, very, very difficult to do at the federal level. We saw John in action and can attest to his tenacious leadership and persuasive skills that led to those balanced budgets mentioned above. He did it with a constant sense of purpose and duty and he did it with a great sense of humor and humanity to boot.

'He was right dere in it'. Doing the job we want any leader to do.

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