GOP Leaders Tell Fiscal Hawks To Fly Away, No Budget This Year

Republican leaders spent most of the Obama years attacking rising debt and massive spending. Now that they control the budget, they could not care less.


Chris Kleponis/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

There's no mystery why fewer and fewer of us trust the federal government. With every passing day, its leaders reveal themselves as so thoroughly political as to be unprincipled.

Remember former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's "full flop" on the question of needing a filibuster-proof majority to confirm judicial nominees? Or that golden moment right after the contested 2000 election where the Republicans suddenly championed federal sovereignty and the Democrats supported state's rights in attempts to win Bush v. Gore? You get the idea: The Dems and the GOP pretend to have principles but they abandon them the minute they sniff out a political opportunity. We're way past what political analyst Jonathan Rauch would call "honest graft," or legitimate "back-room deals" that allow the government to function. At least for the entire 21st century, we're in a landscape more scorched and nihilistic than a Mad Max movie.

The latest episode in all this is the Republican Congress punting on the idea of pretending to pass a budget resolution for the fiscal year than began on October 1, 2017 (almost five full months ago!). For any sort of spending cuts to happen this year, the House and the Senate must each pass a budget resolution. The two bodies could then hash out differences via a process called reconciliation, which would allow the Senate to bypass legislative filibusters requiring 60 votes and instead pass legislation with just 51 votes. You'll recall that this the process that was used to pass last year's tax cuts and that Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders promised that they would tackle spending cuts this spring. The latest from Politico paints a very different picture:

White House and Hill GOP leaders discussed the possibility of forgoing the painful budget process during last weekend's Camp David legislative summit, according to four sources familiar with the talks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has argued that he cannot pass controversial deficit-reduction legislation using powerful budget procedures with his new 51-vote majority — and wasn't even sure he could find the votes for a fiscal blueprint in the first place.


Instead, expect increases of up to $200 billion over the next two years:

Congressional leaders are knee-deep in bipartisan spending negotiations that are shaping up to be a nightmare for [fiscal] conservatives, potentially raising federal spending by more than $200 billion over two years, with few — if any — ways to pay for it. In the same month, Congress also plans to send Trump an $80 billion-plus disaster relief package, the largest of its kind, with no offsets. And just this week, House Republicans announced a plan to debate a return of earmarks, which conservatives have called the "gateway drug" to spending.

Read the whole thing here.

We have, of course, seen this movie before. Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and White House under the first several years of George W. Bush and, despite the passage of tax cuts and oh-so-sincere promises to reduce spending, they absolutely kicked out the jams on outlays like nobody's business. The chart above and to the right shows total federal outlays in nominal dollars. If you believe that the real cost of government is what it spends, it's hard to argue that the GOP is in any way the party of small government. At best, they are the party of small-government rhetoric. And even there, don't get them started on issues such as immigration, gay marriage, and drug legalization.

None of this lets the Democrats off the hook, by the way. As Matt Welch refused to forget, Barack Obama campaigned on enacting "a net spending cut" in which "every dollar that I've proposed, I've proposed an additional cut so that it matches." When the Dems briefly won back control of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that her party would cut spending. They didn't even try, of course, and who can blame him? When you get to funnel spending to your favored constituents, suddenly it's a real Sophie's choice to cut even the tiniest, most useless program. But just as our elected leaders have veered into open nihilism when it comes to principles, so too have they long been incapable of passing budgets in the very years that such bills are supposed to cover.

As Drew DeSilver at Pew writes,

Congress' chronic inability to follow its own appropriations process goes back decades. In fact, in the four decades since the current system for budgeting and spending tax dollars has been in effect, Congress has managed to pass all its required appropriations measures on time only four times: in fiscal 1977 (the first full fiscal year under the current system), 1989, 1995 and 1997.

This chart is truly disturbing if you expect your government to be run by something other than lazy graduate students who take three incompletes every semester:


Here's the worst of it all, per DeSilver's lucid, evenhanded, and completely damning explainer on how budgets are supposed to work: Less than one-third of federal spending is even governed by annual budgets these days.

So-called discretionary spending covers things such as defense and education, and amounted to just $1.2 trillion, or 30 percent of outlays, in fiscal 2017. Meanwhile, "mandatory spending"—which includes Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security—and debt service makes up the rest of the federal nut. Such spending can't be turned off annually and chews up a growing share of outlays (at the start of the century, for instance, mandatory and discretionary spending each accounted for about half of the federal budget). For libertarians who trumpet Congress' absolute dysfunction as "gridlock," the reality is that the federal treasury continues to bleed out even if Congress does nothing. We need to hold our elected officials to a different standard than whatever we've been using. At the very least, they shouldn't get paid a red cent until they follow their own goddamn budget rules and take on-the-record votes of just how much money we don't have that they're willing to spend on stuff that nobody really wants.

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  2. Or that golden moment right after the contested 2000 election where the Republicans suddenly championed federal sovereignty and the Democrats supported state’s rights in attempts to win Bush v. Gore?

    You are aware, right, that it didn’t happen quite like this? That the Floridian SoS was all ready to certify the results and the Democratic party cried foul–a move decidedly antithetical to ‘states rights’.

    That Bush won on election night and it would have all been over then had not the Dems decided to ignore Florida election law?

    Or do you just take the spin and run with it?

    1. Or that FL wouldn’t have even been super-close if the media didn’t report a Gore win before polls closed when he never, at any point, led in the vote count.

      We can also ignore the “extended” poll hours in St, Louis.

      1. All this avoids the whole butterfly ballot issue, where the second hole that could be punched required voters looking to the extreme right to match it with the candidate– Pat Buchanan. Bush (listed first on the left) and Gore (listed second on the left) corresponded to the 1st and 3rd holes down the center of the butterfly ballot. There’s sound evidence that democratic voters had difficulty navigating this (complex?) system.

        I believe the high number of democrats casting ballots for other than Gore was the result of incomplete instructions by their voting prompters. It was reported bused-in voters were instructed on which hole to punch on the ballot, and it’s my belief campaign workers short circuited the proper instructions by telling folks to “just punch the second hole,” leaving out what they meant. It was difficult to hurriedly tell folks to vote for the “second candidate on the left (Gore) who was aligned with the 3rd hole in the center.” My evidence is anecdotal, but I believe that’s likely what happened.

        1. Doesn’t that outcome speak to the mentality of the kinds of voters Democrats count on?

    2. The Y2k election? Where Gore lost Tennessee and blamed Nader’s Econazis? Banning electricity is infinitely stupider than trying to ban abortion or plant leaves! So we’re talking major, exponential stupid! Thank Thor and Diana the LP doesn’t have a ban electricity, abortion or plant leaves plank.

  3. Republicans in congress know that their gerrymandered majority is going to get cut short, and the impotence in enacting an agenda last year won’t help them this year. The only way to stop the bleeding is the number one protection for incumbents: bribe the voters.

  4. Any republicans that don’t resign in the next few months are going to be running wall-to-wall Nancy Pelosi scare ads just before the election. That’s the only other thing they’ve got to work with.

    1. If a democrat were in the White House, this is where Dipshit Dave Weigel would be pointing out for about the third or fourth time today that the Dow Jones has gone up about 8,000 points in the last year and the economy is roaring.

      1. What’s pathetic is your beloved big government GOP has full control of the budget and is threatening to shut down government over DACA – of all things.

        Gotta send those Mexican rapists out of the country. Nothing else but abortion and gays matter to conservative assholes.

        1. threatening to shut down government

          The horror.

          1. OMG! A government shutdown is imminent? Is that as bad as the missile attack in Hawaii? HOW WILL WE GO ON?

            1. Considering how I died and the whole world exploded the last four times the Federal Government shut down, I’m not looking forward to this one.

        2. First of all, illegals have nothing at all to do with the budgetary process. Second of all, it’s you Block Insane Yomommatards that are making this threat. Third of all, go die in a fire.

    2. Uh, no.

      The disaster of the Obama years for my 401K has been rectified.

      The economy is on fire and it’s benefiting real people, not just the government class.

      The corporate tax cut is going to keep the economy growing for a very long time.

      If I were a Democrat, I think I’d give up hope for the next couple election cycles.

      Deficits, global warming, and identity politics haven’t lead to a win the last couple times. They certainly aren’t going to have any attraction when the republicans have actually managed to appear to have done something to help the general populace.

      1. The market went up over 200% under Obama. Trump is not close to that yet.

        1. 149% and that’s only if you include the huge surge after Trump won but before he became shown in as belonging to Obama even though it started that very day. Also you are measuring 1 year against 8 years. The ball has just started rolling. If you start from election win Trump is already a third of the way there in 1/8th of the time.

      2. The GO-Pee platform calls for an Abortion Prohibition Amendment. It’s done that every election since 1976, when ir copied it from the Prohibition Party after the Supreme Court copied the Libertarian pro-choice plank and pasted it into Roe v. Wade. National Socialist Race Suicide theories die hard!

      3. The disaster of the Obama years for my 401K has been rectified.

        If you managed to lose money in your 401(k) over the Obama years, you must be a spectacularly bad investor. Trump-league, really.

        Never mind that the stock market is not the economy. I have no idea why so many Trump supporters are blind to this distinction, but you know what they say about fools and their money…

        1. I didn’t lose money. The anemic growth per year after the stupendous crash at the outset made for a very low yield over time. Yep, you could have gotten huge gains if you were willing to take commensurate risks, but I’m not willing to bet my retirement on that – I’m heavily diversified.

          And if you think retirement plans did well in the Obama years, why are Calpers and so many others failing because their investments underperformed spectacularly in recent years.

          I’ve had 11% growth in my investments since 2017/4/1. In terms of real value, that’s more money than I earned in all the Obama years.

          What growth did you see in your 401k pre and post-Trump?

          I’m nearing retirement – the stock market matters immensely to me.

          And the economy is even a bigger plus for Trump.

          1. I have much of mine in relatively high-risk mutual funds, but about a quarter in bonds/currencies. I was seeing 10-20% through 2015, 2016, and still through 2018. But I’m a solid 40 years out from retirement. I’m glad you were able to earn a little under Trump. Good economy is a good thing. Full stop.

            Let’s just hope we don’t get triple taxed on what we do save to pay for never-shrinking debt.

  5. I wish Collins from Maine in the Senate would fuck off. She’s worse than several midwest Dems.

  6. if you expect your government to be run by something other than lazy graduate students who take three incompletes every semester

    That is a curiously specific metaphor.

  7. Let’s get those tax cuts first, and we’ll definitely rein in spending later.

  8. They have never cared, the entire charade was to blame the black guy for anything and everything.

  9. At least now I can afford a new pitchfork and plenty of oil for the torch, what with my shiny new tax cut.

    1. ooh, and you’ll finally be able to afford one of those fancy new Schumacher hoods i know you’ve had your eye on.

  10. I trust the Kleptocracy. I trust each of its 2 parties to do whatever it takes to backstab and exclude all other parties from power and paychecks–even if it means making concessions to freedom and repealing bad laws. Their making concessions to socialist looters and mystical prohibitionists got us in this fix–and can get us out. The LP has twice the vote count of the Prohibition Party, which has controlled GO-Pee politicians since 1928. Libertarian spoiler votes are coming in at a throughput sufficient to repeal the income tax and to Constitutionally secure trade and production against coercive meddling.

  11. Wouldn’t it be possible to bring the two parties up on racketeering charges? Lord knows there’s plenty of evidence. Money laundering, protection racket, Ponzi scheme, gun running, murder. And what about average citizens financing this organized crime syndicate?

  12. fake news! not as in any of it’s untrue, but is hypocrites being hypocritical really news?

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