One Big Idea: Dave Weigel on the Reverse Appropriations Committee

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ASPEN -- The Congressional appropriations committee is a powerful institution because it doles out the Federal government's money. But what if there was a committee in Congress with a similar power to cut government programs that weren't working?

That's one big idea that Dave Weigel of Slate would like to see become a reality. Weigel graciously served as my guinea pig for a new series of big ideas from the Aspen Ideas Festival presented in short posts. Be on the lookout for them under the header, One Big Idea.

Here's a lightly edited version of what Weigel had to say about the reverse appropriations committee:

The reverse appropriations committee is my favorite idea. It's a committee that used to exist. Harry Byrd used to have a committee that fulfilled the function of finding wasteful programs and putting the power of Congress behind getting rid of them. In fact, we used to have a lot of mechanisms that got rid of government programs. The President could impound certain amounts of money We all got rid of that in the '70s. The post-Watergate reforms screwed this up...

A positive thing you could do right now.. is a committee that analyzes spending and gets rid of stuff that doesn't work. It's an idea -- first of all, it's old -- but it's been resurrected a bit by Rand Paul. But he's been distracted by every other issue.

You could have a team of investigators like the Government Accountability Office does... This isn't a hard and fast idea. There is all this independent work being done on this right now on the left and on the right. For the Peterson Foundation's challenge to balance the budget, even liberal think tanks were coming up with stuff like this. It's something that Congress could get behind.

So much of the cutting we've been doing has been haphazard and last minute. You go after programs that sound stupid. If there is a way to move the game over to programs that may not sound stupid but just don't work. Let's not just attack bear semen research. Let's figure out programs that just aren't working.

What's your big idea? I'm wandering around Aspen looking for the most interesting ideas. Feel free to stop or tweet your ideas to @alexismadrigal.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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