Congress

Another Day, Another Terrible Congressional Spending Bill

If there's something the government does well, it's spend money.

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If there's something the government does well, it's spend money. It does it with great fervor, no matter who's in charge of Congress or the White House. And it's made easier these days, thanks to our legislators' collective unwillingness to follow a regular budget process and their carelessness about the fiscal health of this country. Case in point: the $854 billion Senate spending bill making its way to the House this week.

Considering how large the total spending package is, you'd think it might pay for all discretionary spending (that's the part of the budget that funds transportation, defense, infrastructure, education, and more). But it's only a little more than 65 percent of discretionary spending for 2019. Instead, it covers just one year of defense spending (a Republican priority) and the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill (a Democratic one). As for the remaining discretionary spending, it's provided in a smaller bill meant to fund the government through Dec. 7.

The best way to describe the funding vehicle is as a political balancing act that allows Congress to, yet again, fail to deliver on its No. 1 job: passing an annual spending bill on time. Pretending this isn't how it's been done for years now, Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, defended the move by saying, "This is necessary to ensure that we do not face a government shutdown in the event that we do not finish our work on the remaining bills."

As all procrastinators know, the longer you delay what you should be doing—and the closer to the deadline you let yourself go—the sloppier the final product will be, the more opportunities you'll miss, and the less you'll be able to meet your goals. Now Congress finds itself yet again scrambling to avoid a partial government shutdown on Sept. 30. This is also another missed opportunity to address the overspending issues the Republicans promised voters they would take care of once in power. And, for better or worse, the Republicans in Congress are not meeting many of their budget goals, like defunding Planned Parenthood.

The funding package was approved last week in the Senate with a bipartisanship rarely seen in the higher chamber these days. Only seven Senators voted down the bloated spending bill. And off to the House it goes. There, too, it's expected to get all the support it needs to make it to the president's desk, where—despite Trump's protest about the lack of funding for a border wall—it will likely be signed into law.

Most of the conservative criticism revolves around the lack of funding for a wall that would do nothing to address the need for immigration reform. To the extent that they complain about excessive funding, it's for the roughly $550 million going to Planned Parenthood. Some critics also register a few complaints about busting the non-defense caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. They fail, however, to note that busting the defense caps, like this and earlier budget deals does and did, is no more acceptable. Nor do they duel on the fact that the higher spending levels are the product of the last February's Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which further eroded 2011's fiscal restraints while growing the debt by $300 billion.

With a deficit about to reach $1 trillion—several years ahead of schedule—and with the federal debt exploding, the only thing serious legislators should do is go through the budget line by line to see what programs should be trimmed or terminated. Granted, the fast-growing part of the budget isn't the discretionary side but the mandatary one (with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid). Yet everything should be up for review. There should be no sacred cows.

This should apply to the defense budget, too. Not all additional dollars spent on defense actually increase national security, because—like everything else in the budget—it falls victim to parochial interests and mismanagement. Yet time and time again, conservatives in Congress are so obsessed with adding more spending to the $650 billion defense budget that they easily agree to increase spending for most discretionary programs.

Unfortunately, cutting spending takes time and discipline. It can't be done at the last minute in a bill meant to avoid a shutdown.

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18 responses to “Another Day, Another Terrible Congressional Spending Bill

  1. If there’s something the government does well, it’s spend money.

    No, not well. A lot of is the better choice.

    1. Waste would be a better choice.

  2. This is what kids should be out in the streets protesting. This is the real threat to their health and safety, not guns, not berzerk autistic kids. Why are they silent? Because we bully them into submission (to our securicare and endless rounds of unnecessary blood tests). And of course the socialists cry that any cut is tantamount to ‘murder’.

    1. The more government intrudes in daily life, the more it constricts us. Humans are naturally independent and curious and exploratory and gregarious. We like to find things out by ourselves, but we also like to be with others and share our discoveries.

      Government controls so much of our lives that they reduce the chances for this. When it was just a matter of the frontier, hardly anybody was affected. But when it comes to putting helmets on pre-schoolers, it affects everybody. We feel stifled, restless, generate a lot of pent-up anger, but what is the point of lashing out at government? There is one government for everything — as if you had to buy all food, clothes, toys, videos, everything — from one store. What’s the use of complaining?

      So instead we lash out at people we can affect: family, friends, teachers, bosses.

      That’s what’s wrong with government.

    2. And of course the socialists cry that any reduction in the rate of spending growth is tantamount to ‘murder’.

      FTFY

  3. Vote Dem. They at least halfway want to fund the things they love. The Repubs strategy of “starving the beast” doesn’t do anything. Maybe if people were forced to fully fund their pet projects then they’d get serious about where precisely their tax dollars are going and how much money is going to what.

    1. “They at least halfway want to fund the things they love.”

      Sure, they sort of want to fund the things they love, the problem is that they love more things than they could possibly fully fund without even more debt than the Republican strategy of “starving the beast” produces, and they aren’t willing to make the choice to only implement the things they can fund without debt.

    2. I am not sure we have ever really tried starving the beast. As long as the government can borrow money, the beast doesn’t starve. And, despite the recent tax cuts, I think government revenue is at or near an all time high. So, we do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. I would love to find a way to truly starve the beast.

  4. Some critics also register a few complaints about busting the non-defense caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. They fail, however, to note that busting the defense caps, like this and earlier budget deals does and did, is no more acceptable. Nor do they duel on the fact that the higher spending levels are the product of the last February’s Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which further eroded 2011’s fiscal restraints while growing the debt by $300 billion.

    But idiot Peanuts here say that Obama never cut/limited spending!

    Of course the GOP gutted the 2011 budget act in 2018.

  5. The government’s motto might as well be ‘spend it like you stole it’ ? it would be accurate, at least.

  6. We will keep borrowing money to cover the deficit until we can’t borrow no more. Question of when, not if. The trick for the R or D parties is to NOT be in power when the shit hits the fan.

    1. Sadly, this seems to be the most likely scenario

  7. JUST WAIT TILL US REPUBLICANS TAKE OVER AGAIN! WE IS REALLY GONNA CUT SPENDING!

    (idiot Teabagger – circa 2009-10)

  8. the only thing serious legislators should do is go through the budget line by line to see what programs should be trimmed or terminated.

    That’s impossible, since every program is vital or it wouldn’t be in the budget.

    The only serious thing is cutting each item by X% and letting the chips fall where they may.

    1. I would prefer a mechanism where a cap was firmly established, that congress did not have the authority to override. And of course the cap would have to be fiscally responsible – equal or lower than revenues derived from reasonable taxation. That would shift the discussion to the relative importance of spending programs. Today, it seems, it is far too easy to simply claim that everything is important. But with a spending limit, if gov’t wanted to spend here, it would have to cut there. And the senators / representatives would have defend why their program is more important than the others. It would be ugly, but maybe we would get a proper prioritization of spending. Sort of like real people do with their personal budgets

  9. This is also another missed opportunity to address the overspending issues the Republicans promised voters they would take care of once in power.

    To be fair, Newt Gingrich is no longer Speaker so it’s kind of difficult to deliver on that promise.

  10. ENB, thank you for your roundup on the Kavanaugh accusations. Seriously. It’s a good summary of how shitty the accusations are. Perhaps you might catch Nick in the hall and compare notes on the definition of “credible”.

    Beyond that, I hope Kavanaugh isn’t confirmed for policy reasons, whatever those are.

  11. The government doesn’t spend money well.
    It wastes money well.

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