Politicians’ addiction to overspending has long been bound by no political affiliation. No matter which party is in charge, the federal government runs a deficit. The $21 trillion national debt is the most visible bipartisan accomplishment, if you want to call it that, of the past several decades.
A recent manifestation of this trend is the reckless $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, the hurried creation of a Republican House and Republican Senate, and signed into law by a Republican president.
The 2,232-page behemoth pushed discretionary spending — the spending Congress has direct and immediate control over — a whopping $143 billion over previous budget cap levels. And, of course, it did nothing to rein in mandatory spending on entitlement programs, the main drivers of deficits and debt.
This marked the second time in as many months that the Republican-led Congress threw fiscal caution to the wind, on the heels of the appalling February budget deal that opened the door for higher spending.
When Republicans can’t even muster up the courage to restrain the growth of spending on Democratic priorities — The Atlantic noted that the measure would “make Barack Obama proud” — what hope is there for dealing with the deficit When they write a mammoth spending bill in secret and rush it to final passage before lawmakers have a chance to read and digest it, what are voters to think?
The answers are in the numbers, if only congressional leadership would do the math.
The deficit is expected to exceed $800 billion this year, approach $1 trillion next year, and then remain in excess of $1 trillion for years to come. According to a newly released report by the Congressional Budget Office, an additional $12.4 trillion will be added to the debt over the next 10 years.
For those hoping to pin this dismal outlook on the tax cuts enacted at the end of 2017, you’ll have to look elsewhere. CBO projects that federal tax revenues as a share of GDP will be higher in 10 years than it is now. Federal spending is projected to exceed 23 percent of GDP by 2027. The historical norm is about 20 percent.
We’ve always emphasized the importance of pairing tax cuts with spending restraint. But letting taxpayers keep more of the money they earn is very different than Washington spending it, and spending is where the problem is. American families don’t waste billions of dollars propping up wealthy farmers, profitable insurance companies and a host of other well-connected special interests. The federal government does that.
The solution to our budget crisis is not to dun the taxpayer for the tab run up by politicians in both parties. The solution is for Congress to restrain itself.
One step the Republican leadership could take right now would be to employ the little-used rescission process to claw back some of the spending included in the omnibus. Instead of pursuing such genuine reforms, however, the House held a show-vote on a balanced budget amendment that had no chance and would not have cut a single dime off the deficit.
When you ignore a problem, you can count on it coming back around.
Having kicked the spending can down the road for what seems like the hundredth time, it appears lawmakers will once again fail to pass individual appropriations bills under regular order, requiring them to revisit the question come September, at the end of this fiscal year. And, if past is prologue, another massive omnibus spending bill will only make our problems worse.
The next budget deadline will present one more chance, just a few weeks before the midterm elections, for fiscally responsible lawmakers from both parties to give potential voters a reason they should be returned to office. Certainly, the recently passed “bipartisan” omnibus gives them no such reason.