If a child sneaks into the cupboard to eat a whole sleeve of cookies, do they have the right to reject two cookies for dessert as insufficient from now on?
That’s exactly the argument that big spenders in Washington are trying to make. And they are easily getting away with it.
Budget talks in DC began in earnest this week. Congressional leaders from both parties met with key officials from the Trump administration to try to hash out a budget deal for the next two years.
When you read anything about budget talks, you will likely hear some iteration of the phrase “we’re trying to avoid a harmful 10 percent spending cut.”
What you probably won’t hear is that 10 percent cut is a direct result of Congress giving themselves a massive 13 percent increase during the last budget negotiation. But that context is critical to any discussions surrounding this round of budget talks.
Let’s back up for a second. The Budget Control Act of 2011 placed caps on the discretionary spending to reduce the deficit by $900 billion over the next 10 years compared to the baseline at the time. In addition to those caps, the bill set up the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (JSC), known as the “Super Committee,” which was supposed to come up with another $1.2 trillion or more in savings.
That Super Committee failed, triggering a lower set of discretionary spending caps with defense and non-defense spending taking equal hits. Those lower caps are considered “sequester level caps.”
Though commentators often make the sequester sounds like massive cuts every time it comes up, it was really just a one-time cut in 2013 followed by a gradual increase to the spending baseline. A baseline that Congress never even stuck to.
In 2013, the Bipartisan Budget Act raised spending by $62 billion above the caps. In 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act raised spending by $80 billion above the caps. Then in 2018, the Bipartisan Budget Act increased spending by $300 billion above the caps – quadrupling the levels in the prior agreements.
If Congress raised the caps in 2018 by similar amounts as the 2013 or 2015 deals – we would be looking at a modest increase in spending next fiscal year. But because Congress blew out the spending caps by so much in 2018 – the baseline will reset to 10 percent below current levels absent a deal. A point that proponents of big spending on both sides of the aisle are bludgeoning home, while conveniently failing to mention why this is happening.
Think for a moment about how backwards this is. If Congress would have increased spending by 30 percent last time, we would be talking about an even “scarier” 25 percent spending cut.
This really drives home why the last deal was so consequential. Not only did it increase our debt by $300 billion without doing anything to deal with our current $22 trillion national debt or $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, it created the predicate that this is the new normal.
Kevin McCallister did not spend the rest of his life in the Presidential Suite at the Plaza Hotel. But Congress sure wants to.