A Sunset Provision Can Be the Midwife for Alternatives

The Congress and the White House are now girding for a battle over the 2011 Federal Budget.  At the heart of this battle will be our enormous national debt and the continuing, unsupportable, budget deficits.

Both sides of the aisle, in both houses of Congress, as well as the White House, recognize, but refuse to address, the three 800 pound gorillas in the room – entitlements.

The Big Three — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — are choking the nation and official Washington seems to take the same view as a very young child playing “hide-and-seek.”  A toddler will often assume that if they can’t see you, you can’t see them.

For a child who is two or three years old, this sort of behavior is both charming and amusing.

For grown men and women in responsible positions to function in a similar fashion is both alarming and pathetic.

But what should be done?  As I said in an article at American Thinker last year:

The difference between failed government spending and a failed private-sector investment is that when a private-sector investment fails, the private sector stops spending. The phrase “throwing good money after bad” comes readily to mind.

So how do we put the idea of controlling spending on autopilot?  The recent extension of the Patriot Act showed us at least an idea of how to do that very thing. It had to be extended, and it was re-examined before being extended.  Such so called “sunset” provisions, which are rarely embedded within any legislation, may be just the very thing we need to kill spending over time.

When John Boehner and the House Republicans achieved a majority in the House, they changed the rules and now require a statement defining the Constitutional underpinning of every new piece of legislation before it can be submitted for committee review.  No Constitutional amendment was needed for this rule change, nor was a unanimous vote of the House required.

This same technique could be used to implement a requirement that every law that results in any government spending have a sunset provision.

Every law that Congress enacts is ostensibly to solve some problem or other.  Fine, but to use the private sector analogy mentioned previously, if the problem isn’t solved – STOP SPENDING!

House rules could very easily be modified to only allow submission of legislation if it contained language limiting, or “sunsetting” the law, at a maximum of five years after passage.

A five year sunset provision should be more than adequate to determine if the solution is working, or if it is just making the problem worse.  Before any legislation could be extended, there would of necessity be a “scoring” or evaluation by the Congressional Budget Office. This scoring would have to evaluate the actual impact of the law on spending since the law was originally passed versus the CBO’s projected budgetary impact that had been calculated prior to the law’s original passage.

The recently passed health care legislation would be a fascinating example of the accuracy of the projected spending levels that the CBO generated at the direction of Congress to justify Obamacare economically when compared on a line-by-line basis with the actual results.

This same technique would work well with the Big Three.  A CBO analysis, on a program-by-program basis, of what costs were projected versus those actually incurred, should be illuminating at the very least.  Congress and the White House, as well as the citizens who have to pay the bill, would then get a clear picture of how well our elected public servants were doing when judging just how carefully their money is being spent.

Once glaring disparities are identified between what should have happened and what actually did happen, Congress and the appropriate departments in the Executive Branch can take remedial action.  Should the Executive Branch not move expeditiously, by including a sunset provision in every piece of legislation, the law in question would self-extinguish, ending any further spending.  No failure to repeal, nor presidential veto of a repeal would be involved.  The bank would automatically close.

Since not spending is always anathema to anyone working in government, this should result in an energetic response on the part of everyone involved.

Even if the funding levels match original CBO estimates, a sunset provision should force an examination of the second half of the issue, which of course would be “Did this law solve the problem?”

If the problem is solved, then the law need not be extended at all.  After all, if the problem is no longer there, why would there be a need for a solution?  This would, hopefully, end the situation that frequently exists in Washington – expensive solutions in search of a problem.

If the problem is not solved, then Congress would be faced with dealing with the frequently cited definition of psychosis, which is “doing the same thing again and again, while expecting a different result.”  If the problem isn’t solved after five years, it would indicate that the original “solution” isn’t working, and a new approach is required.

In either case, the taxpayer would have two possible positive outcomes.  One would be that spending would be reduced by eliminating a program.  The other would be that if the problem still exists and money is still going to be spent, it will not be spent on programs that are proven to be failures.  New solutions might be just as much a failure as the original solutions, but at least they would fail the “Is this psychotic behavior?” test.


Comments are not only welcome, but necessary.  After all, you can’t have a conversation or debate if there’s only one person speaking.  If you would prefer to share your opinions with me privately, my email address is:  james.v.yardley@gmail.com



About Jim Yardley

Retired after 30 years as a financial controller for a variety of manufacturing firms, a two-tour Vietnam veteran, and independent voter.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Economy, Government Spending, Healthcare, Political Doubletalk, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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