Fellow Bear-Flagger Michael Rappaport has an idea for controlling federal spending: require a supermajority to pass all spending bills greater than 90% the value of the previous year's total. He believes that this threshold will allow a majority to prevent a government shut-down, but give a minority the power to curtail excessive spending.
I see two problems, one substantial and one philisophical.
First, I don't really see how this would reign in discretionary spending. All it would do is require the majority to spend even more to buy enough votes to pass the budget. Part of the reason the Republicans who control Congress haven't cut spending is because their majority in the Senate is so thin that every vote has to be bought. If the Republicans had a five vote majority (rather than one vote), each Senator's support for a spending bill would be worth much less. Requiring a supermajority to pass spending bills would make each marginal vote even more expensive -- particularly if the majority is forced to buy votes from Senators who would prefer to cut spending.
Secondly, I'm not sure I like the idea of undermining the principle of majority rule. I believe that requiring supermajorities is acceptable for some things (particularly at the state level), but I'm uneasy about imposing such a limitation on the will of the majority at the federal level. Would bills that shifted money between departments require supermajorities also, or would they only be needed when the total budget increased? If a simple majority could move money while keeping the total constant (or even 10% lower) budget battles could get very ugly.
The idea is interesting, but I need to consider it more. On the surface it doesn't feel very convincing.