With minimal exceptions, government spending has continued to steadily climb regardless of which party is in charge. Two votes and an ongoing discussion on Capitol Hill shed light on why that is. A discussion about a rescissions package to cut $15 billion in unnecessary spending, a failed vote on Senator Paul’s budget amendment, and an amendment vote on our nation’s sugar policies.
Special Interests and Parochialism Prevent Cuts of Clearly Wasteful Programs
“House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, who is still trying to gain enough GOP support for the farm bill ahead of a final vote on Friday, plans to whip against his own bill should Foxx’s sugar amendment be passed.”
Spanning 644 pages in length, $867 billion in cost, and covering hundreds of programs and policies, the farm bill is by far the most significant bill that the Agriculture Committee takes up. The Chairman of the Agriculture Committee said he would have voted to kill his own crowning achievement if the majority of the House of Representatives agreed that it was time to reform the sugar program, which protects American sugar farmers while artificially raising the costs for American consumers. Chairman Conaway did not have to make good on his threat, as the sugar reform amendment was rejected 278-137.
Not all of DC has to be captured by a special interest group to maintain their federal largesse. It doesn’t even take a majority. It just takes the commitment of a well-placed congressmen or group to maintain and expand the favors. There are enough special and parochial interests that anytime a proposal to reform or eliminate a program is introduced – a member of that constituency will throw their political muscle around to save it.
The sugar program is just one example of costs spread across millions of taxpayers and benefits accrued to a favored few. There are plenty of other examples in the farm bill including dairy farmers, peanut growers, and cotton farmers. The Jones Act, which protects American shipbuilders at the cost of sensible transit and trade flows, and the federal flood insurance program, where Americans subsidize the risky development in coastal areas. The tax code is littered with narrowly tailored provisions that benefit the well-heeled at the cost of the many.
Partisan Politics Puts Calculated Messaging Ahead of Sound Policymaking
“I worry about the messaging the Democrats will be able to do off it,” said Rep. Ryan A. Costello (R-Pa.), voicing a concern shared by numerous other lawmakers. “Those ads write themselves.”
That is the political calculations being made on whether it would be beneficial to take up and pass President Trump’s $15 billion rescission package. The package would clear unused, unneeded, and expired budget authority from the federal books and would result in $1 billion in reduced spending. That is a cut of .002% of the $4.5 trillion federal budget or about 2-hours’ worth of federal spending.
But the rescissions come from programs that have feel-good titles, such as $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Democrats are seizing the opportunity to start up a fear-mongering campaign against Republicans on the issue, painting Republicans as heartless hacks stealing health care from poor children. As the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee opined, “I don’t understand the political calculation in doing that. And if it’s a matter of principle, then fine, certainly I respect them for taking principled stances….But those are things we’d love to run against — and will.”
It’s a near guarantee that those attack ads will not include the fact that Congress has rescinded $46 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program since 2011 on a bipartisan basis. They probably won’t say how they protect the practice of cutting $11 billion in funds set-aside for victims of crime to pay for other items either.
Here is the thing. Democrats and Republicans have perfected the art of creating a constituency of people that will be impacted if a program is reformed, reduced, or eliminated. It’s the easiest thing to do in politics. The tougher case to make is the non-visible effects, such as the pernicious impact of debt and the impact it will have on the future economy. If Republicans are not willing to make the case to rescind money without any real constituencies, it’s no wonder that they will not touch anything that will actually reduce spending.
As Sen. Graham (R-SC), who is apprehensive about passing the rescissions package said, “I don’t buy the construct of this is why we’re in debt…And it would be politically kind of stupid to do some of these things.”
He’s right, a $1 billion spending reduction will not save us from the mountain of debt we are in. Not anywhere close. It will take a much bigger, broader reform to do so.
There’s Always Something Else to Blame
“This budget throws our military in a ditch and I am tired of doing that….It is a joke. Now is not the time to be funny, now is the time to be serious.”
That’s Sen. Graham again, opposing Sen. Paul’s Budget Resolution that would cut spending by 1 percent per year to balance the federal budget within 5 years. The construct that has us in deep debt is that we either need to spend less or tax more. Though he professes to care about debt, Sen. Graham calls a proposal to tackle the spending side “a joke.”
Like clockwork, anytime a proposal to make changes that would fix our major debt problems there is a ready-made excuse. Entitlements are the major driver of our debt. So Republicans say we can spend as much on defense as we want because entitlements are the problem. Same with the tax cuts. Yet, they don’t push for entitlement reform because that’s too risky politically. Democrats will do the same, saying we don’t need to reform entitlements, we just need to raise taxes on the wealthy.
The sad irony is, the legacy of these broken budgets will mean that the next generations will likely be dealing with higher taxes and smaller entitlement benefits. But that’s a problem that can be dealt with after the next election. For now, it’s time to cue up the attack ads!