A Bipartisan Tradition of Enabling Spendaholics

Republicans prove that when they're in power, they like to spend just as much as Democrats do.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/Newscom

Our national debt is $20.5 trillion and heading to $30 trillion by 2030. You'd think that this would be a wake-up call for Republicans, who control all three branches of government, to finally take spending seriously. Instead, they want to get rid of the spending caps meant to constrain lawmakers' uncontrollable appetite to spend.

The spending caps were implemented as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The deal itself was the result of a vigorous debt ceiling battle between those who wanted the unconditional ability to raise the debt limit and those who called for fiscal discipline going forward in exchange for additional debt at the time. In the end, the pro-debt people got their increase in the authority of the federal government to borrow even more money, and the pro-fiscal restraint ones got spending caps. Though the caps weren't strict enough (they mostly reduced the growth of additional spending, as opposed to imposing actual cuts), they turned out to be the most fiscally responsible policy in decades.

Now, you may say that being the most successful at restraining spending isn't that impressive when there haven't been many, if any, real attempts to control spending. Indeed, the Republicans have, time and time again, proved that when they're in power, they like to spend just as much as Democrats do. At the margins, they want to spend money on different things than Democrats—they like military spending, government spying and immigration crackdowns a lot more than liberals do—but for the most part, they actually love wasting cash on the same stuff. Both sides support farm subsidies, unchecked improper payments and more money for unaccountable infrastructure projects, museums and opera houses. Many of these things only benefit the rich.

The truth remains that the BCA caps were pretty effective at tying lawmakers' hands. When the act was passed, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the spending limits would save $971 billion over 10 years. Again, these were not real cuts but mostly restraints on the growth of spending, meaning that spending was still going up from year to year. But even that was too much for big spenders, who repeatedly and successfully managed to circumvent the caps. A recent paper titled "Reform the Budget Control Act Spending Caps," by The Heritage Foundation's Romina Boccia and Justin Bogie, documents the betrayal in numeric details. Boccia and Bogie rightfully paint the portrait of a Congress whose members don't care much for the constraints they've imposed on themselves and are happy to break the promises they've made to their constituents.

In spite of these setbacks, the BCA and its budget caps did put a dramatic stop to the spending spree during its first two years. Now Republicans want to bust the caps by almost $190 billion over two years. As always, their stated reason is that defense spending isn't large enough, despite the $602 billion the Office of Management and Budget projects we'll have spent on national defense in 2017.

As designed, the BCA imposes separate caps on defense and non-defense spending, as opposed to one overall cap on all discretionary spending. As a result, it requires fiscal restraint from defense hawks, as well as non-defense spending advocates. This is the way it should be. Contrary to what Republicans believe, defense spending isn't immune to waste, fraud and abuse or a poorly designed spending strategy, which leads to malinvestment and outdated military goals. An increase in defense spending doesn't necessarily lead to more security, either.

The admitted flaw in my reasoning is that lawmakers have a profound disrespect for budget rules and have no qualms about suspending them when inconvenienced. As a result, we've repeatedly witnessed the Republican defense hawks make deals with Democrats amounting to "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." The result is always that both defense caps and non-defense caps are busted at the expense of fiscal credibility and future generations.

This is about to happen again. Shame on those who are about to engage in a spending frenzy during a time of relative peace, prosperity and high debt. Their behavior is unpardonable and will be paid for dearly by generations of American children.

NEXT: Trump Administration Lawyer Pummeled by Sotomayor and Gorsuch in Cellphone Tracking Case

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  1. “during a time of relative peace, prosperity”

    I haven’t seen so much asked of a “relative” since I had to convince my cousin to help me bury that shipping container without being given an answer about why it had “Imuschestvo iz GRU” on the side and was glowing faintly.

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      go? to tech tab for work detail,,, http://www.onlinecareer10.com

    2. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do… http://www.onlinecareer10.com

  2. But they’re giving us a tax break.

    1. How generous of them, bless their hearts!

      They are exactly like a mugger who takes my wallet, but generously decides to let me keep 2-3 singles plus my bus pass. Well, maybe not exactly like that. The mugger probably doesn’t waste money anywhere near as foolishly as these low-lifes with power over us.

    2. Please define us, because I am not getting a tax break from what I have seen.

  3. As the Democratic Party disintegrates, only the big spending RINOpublican Party will be left. Prime time for elections to be between Libertarians and the GOP.

    1. The Democratic Party is not disintegrating! Just because Putin hacked the election and stole it from the rightful winner Hillary Rodham Clinton, it doesn’t mean we’re giving up. There will be a Democratic president in 2021, or possibly earlier if Mueller comes through for us!

      1. You should be thankful the “rightful” winner is not POTUS. Otherwise, she would have been the final nail in the coffin of the Democrat Party.

        1. I disagree. Voting for HRC was the proudest moment of my life, and she would have been a fantastic President, just like she was a fantastic Secretary of State and US Senator.

          Alas, Russia, and the FBI, and the patriarchy conspired to install Drumpf.

          1. Why do you always forget about the lizard people? Where do you think the russians got their mind control rays?

            1. Now you’re just being silly. Hacking an election doesn’t involve lizard people, or mind control rays. It involves hacking the DNC, spreading fake news and Facebook memes, and possibly manipulating vote counting machines in key swing states.

              1. Funny how that 100k from the russians (really lizard people) was so mich more effective than the 2BB spent by hillary. But it all makes sense once you accept the truth of the mind control rays.

              2. Just face the fact that your candidate sucked and did more to turn away voters than anything the russkies could have done.

                1. You guys cannot possibly believe OBL-t is anything but a nationalist troll.

                  1. I thought it was a test post for my Sarc-O-Meter.

                    1. It broke, btw…need to get one that goes to 11.

                    2. Apparently NAS and NVN’s meters were broken beforehand.

              3. You are engaging in satire, correct? You are a reporter with the Onion, correct? Cuz I can’t believe that you could actually believe what you write.

    2. I doubt that. But we’ll see.

  4. Since the Dow is over 24,000 this morning, here’s my periodic reminder that Paul Krugman’s ruminations from election night never get old:

    “If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.”

    1. Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize winner in economics. That means if you dispute anything he says, you’re guilty of being anti-intellectual. I’m sure his prediction is valid. Maybe you’re just misinterpreting it?

    2. Argument ad vericundiam: Paul Krugman’s performance on predictions is at least as good as, say, Paul Erlichs’.

  5. While many voters like spending cuts as an abstract notion, they will turn when what is cut benefits them. Of course, having to deal with reductions in the rate of growth ofbthe budget being labeled as draconian does not help foster a climate of fiscal rectitude.

    1. Yep. This is why all spending cuts are political suicide: Someone will be affected, and they will raise a big stink.

      1. You are absolutely correct. That is why you have to elect people willing to serve only one term who will actually cut spending. The problem there is like the “term limit” guys. Once elected, they suddenly see the benefit of multiple terms and change their opinions.

  6. CTRL- f entitlement.

    No mention. Huh.

    1. Must have been an oversight.

  7. “As designed, the BCA imposes separate caps on defense and non-defense spending, as opposed to one overall cap on all discretionary spending. As a result, it requires fiscal restraint from defense hawks, as well as non-defense spending advocates. This is the way it should be….

    …Shame on those who are about to engage in a spending frenzy during a time of relative peace, prosperity and high debt. Their behavior is unpardonable and will be paid for dearly by generations of American children.”

    Shame indeed, but I have given up on both parties, which are morally and financially bankrupt.

  8. Expanding the defense budget is a “my penis is bigger than the last guy’s penis” tactic. It has nothing to do with the need for more defense spending. There are also a lot of defense contractors contributing to political campaigns who need to be cronied happy. (That’s not a real verb but I like it).

  9. “Surprise, surprise”; said exactly no one.

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