Budget deals seem to come – like the seasons – about every four months now, something that is not good for the country. It denies investors and entrepreneurs who create wealth, grow the economy and in the process produce jobs, a sense of certainty about what policy will be from even one month to the next. As a result they husband their capital, scale back on expansion, and leave the people who make up the labor force high and dry.
The $64 dollar question right now is whether Congress will be voting on yet another budget deal before going home for the Christmas recess. The always reliable Magic 8 Ball says “All signs point to YES” as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced this evening that they have reached a deal that raises both taxes and spending. The House is expected to vote on the deal on Friday.
Ryan is known for wanting to take on the issue of entitlements head on. Without reform, the spending in programs like Medicare and Social Security will bankrupt the country in not all that many years. The Washington Post quoted Ryan as saying the deal was “a clear improvement on the status quo” which would have hit the Department of Defense harder than other parts of the government – while still cutting the amount the federal government would spend over what it was projected to take in by $20 billion. But these cuts to the sequetser may be pennywise but pound foolish and open the door to further spending increases down the road.
The Ryan-Murray deal raises discretionary federal spending over the $1 trillion mark – to $1.012 trillion to be exact – and raises tax on individual Americans. Some people may try to dismiss these tax hikes as “fee increases” but the principle in this case appears to be the same. As such, Congress should send it to the trash heap where it belongs, in favor of a clean continuing resolution that funds the government at the level promised in the Budget Control Act, from whence the sequester came.
A coalition of influential conservatives under the banner of the Conservative Action Project including former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, former Congressman David McIntosh, Tea Party Patriots’ Jenny Beth Martin, and Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring (where I am a senior fellow) put the congressional leadership on notice this afternoon that the deal supposedly in the offing was unacceptable.
The group issued a statement saying that:
Though conservatives support more spending restraint, the discretionary spending limits defined in the Budget Control Act represent a promise to the American people to marginally slow the growth of government. The budget conference committee represents an opportunity for Congress and President Obama to honor their bipartisan agreement; it is not a vehicle to break budget limits or increase revenue. Rather than searching for ways to abandon a bipartisan spending agreement, Congress should pass legislation that upholds the caps and then focus their energy on something productive, like stopping the train wreck that is Obamacare.
There is a better path forward than the Ryan-Murray deal. Before taking up the budget conference recommendations the House should take the lead in passing a continuing resolution that will fund the government for the rest of the year, as I wrote here Monday, that honors the spirit and the letter of the Budget Control Act. The approval, at least in Congress’ lower chamber, of a clean spending bill that does not raise taxes or spending is a necessary first step before entering into negotiations on yet another overly-broad compromise constructed around the lowest common denominator to which Democrats and Republicans can agree.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was right when he said Tuesday that “federal spending remains on an unsustainable course.” He was also right when he said that only “one party has led efforts to bring fiscal sanity back to Washington” but he is wrong to give his approval to a deal that increases spending and taxes. This is not what the country needs right now – even with the long-term implications of entitlement reform. Current spending has to be brought under control. The sequester does that by pulling hard on the reins of government and it would be a mistake for the responsible members of Congress to want to hold the line on spending to allow its grip to be loosened.
The bottom line is that the congressional budget process is irrevocably broken. Once Nevada’s Harry Reid became majority leader the Senate seemed able to go for years without writing or passing an actual budget relying instead on parliamentary chicanery. Even the White House has gone slack, with President Barack Obama’s budget for FY 2014 arriving on Capitol Hill more than a month later than what federal law requires.
Few people, Democrats or even some Republicans, take the budget process seriously anymore. The fiscal clock has been allowed to run down so many times, so many spending decisions have been reached through backroom deals negotiated at the last minute – sometimes even later – that the defined-in-law process to determine how much the federal government will spend from one year to the next is now honored more in the breach than in the observance. Clearly the American people and most of Congress have been cut out of the loop as a few leaders crafted a tax-and-spending plan that the current president, a profligate on the order of King Croesus, will sign. He shouldn’t get the chance.