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Senate Can't Muster Votes to Trim 0.08 Percent of Federal Budget

Trump's plan to cut $15 billion in spending really would have cut only about $1.1 billion. Its rejection is depressing anyway.

A bill backed by the White House that would have cut a modest $15 billion in federal spending authority fell two votes shy of passage in the Senate on Wednesday.

As I explained when the bill cleared the House two weeks ago, the so-called "rescission" package actually cut just $1.1 billion in federal spending, with those cuts spread over the next 10 years. The rest of the supposed cuts were the result of sweeping up unused budgetary authority from various departments and agencies in the current budget.

The $1.1 billion in spending cuts would have amounted to about 0.08 percent of the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in March. The federal government spends 40 times as much every year fighting a pointless war in Afghanistan. It spends 100 times as much every year on fraudulent Medicaid claims. In the context of the federal budget, $1.1 billion isn't just a drop in the bucket; it's a bucket in an ocean.

In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the bill, the cut in the current fiscal year would have been just $57 million. Most of the cuts would apply to the next three fiscal years, with a not-so-whopping $368 million trimmed from next year's proposed spending levels the biggest single-year slice.

Even that cut was too much for the Senate to handle. Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) were the only two Republicans who voted Wendesday against discharging the bill from committee. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) were absent. Collins told The Hill she believed Congress should "comb through" the spending cuts via the appropriations process, while Burr said he voted no because leadership would not commit to letting him amend proposed cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

That's a pretty good illustration of why cutting spending in Washington is all but impossible. The rescission bill was little more than "a modest show of good faith to taxpayers," as Bill Riggs, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, called it. Given the chance to demonstrate a willingness to cut just a modicum of the federal government's runaway spending, Burr and Collins found reasons to vote against the bill. There are always reasons to oppose cuts, but how can Congress make the tough decisions required to control a $21 trillion (and growing) national debt when it can't make easy decisions like this?

Probably the most politically difficult part of the rescission bill was the inclusion of $7 billion in spending reductions for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) seized on that part of the proposal as an opportunity to blame Trump and the GOP for "going after health care dollars that millions of children rely on, especially during outbreaks of the flu and other deadly illnesses." But the congressional authorization to spend that money expired in September, and Congress provided a new funding stream for CHIP as part of the budget deal passed earlier this year. Wiping out this spending authority would not have affected CHIP's ability to provide services to anyone.

If Republicans aren't going to be serious about fiscal discipline, Democrats are not about to take their place. "I am disappointed by this Congress' failure to even pretend it takes fiscal responsibility seriously," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in a statement after the vote. "It is time for Congress to grow up and acknowledge that government won't be able to do anyone any good or fund any politician's priority when it goes broke."

Photo Credit: Dennis Brack/Newscom

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  • brec||

    a $21 billion [sic] (and growing) national debt

    Hey, that's one thousandth of what I thought it was!

  • Rat on a train||

    See, nothing to worry about.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    So many editors, so little proofreading.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    No Gods, No Editors

  • ||

    "...control a $21 billion (and growing) national debt..."

    *trillion*

  • The Last American Hero||

    If it turns out that it really is trillion and not billion, that could be a game changer in the national conversation on government spending.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'm gonna be less stressed out if it really does turn out to be billion instead of trillion. That would be one of the best typo corrections in history.

  • ||

    Politicians pretend to themselves like it's "billion" instead of "trillion".

  • ||

    "A trillion here, a triillion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."

    The original "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money" was attributed to Everett Dirksen. It is unlikely that he ever did actually say it but it's fun misquoting or misattributing words to politicians.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Ye gods, cut spending already.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Your 1.1 billion tiny cut doesn't account for the millions who would die from it.

  • Rat on a train||

    You forgot the multiplier effect. It would likely kill billions.

  • Just Say'n||

    Both sides

  • creech||

    To be fair, since when is Collins a Republican?

  • ||

    She seems to think it's still 1936.

  • dchang0||

    Looks like the only way out of the US governments' fiscal mess is a collapse. Our politicians are too cowardly to do anything but spend, spend, spend.

  • Merl3noir||

    That's pretty much the truth. There is no way to save the ship at this point, at least no way that will not cause considerable pain to voters. So why not spend, spend, spend, as long as voters support that form of pain.

  • Jerryskids||

    Look, they wanted to increase spending by $600 billion but only increased it by a modest $400 billion, that's a $200 billion cut right there.

  • Jerryskids||

    Depending on how they play the game, it's a win/win situation. The GOP proposes a $500 billion increase in defense spending, the Dems whittle it down to $250 billion and then the Dems campaign on the issue of the GOP throwing money at the Pentagon to the tune of 250 large and the GOP campaigns on the issue of the Dems slashing defense spending to the tune of 250 large.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I'll spend my extra three dollars in income on half a pack of cigarettes.

  • gaoxiaen||

    That averages one cigarette per year over ten years.

  • Let freedom ring||

    When will libertarians realize that the only way to cut spending is to stop paying taxes you are not required to pay? Why do they continue to feed the beast?
    Jacob Hornberger says the hundreds of thousands who file educated income tax returns and receive full refunds of state and federal withholdings, including payroll taxes, are not correct, but are beneficiaries of IRS sloth in processing the returns. Really? After 15 years of success?
    Then he wants the educated filers, who are WINNING, to somehow challenge the system in court. You have no standing in federal court unless you are damaged. If the irs IS IN FACT PROCESSING YOUR REFUNDS, YOU HAVE NO STANDING TO SUE!
    Wake up libs! The politicians will not stop spending if you keep sending in the money! Stand up for the rule of law, and file educated returns based on the Constitution and income tax laws, and get your money back! www.losthorizons.com

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    I mean, if you want to go to jail that's a pretty good idea. But the bigger point is a good one -- don't pay any more than you have to. This should be obvious, but people are often faced with the decision to either take the standard deduction or spend a lot of extra time itemizing, and sometimes the difference only works out to a couple hundred bucks so they don't bother. I wish people would choose not to be lazy.

  • Fats of Fury||

    Hey! Care and feeding of undocumented tourists isn't free.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    Sometimes, when the camera lights hits his eye just right, you can see the maggots eating Charlie Schumer's brain. Or what's left of it.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    All day tomorrow John, Lovecons, and other Trump-tards will be here to tell all the Peanuts about how the GOP is REALLY the small government party.

    Fucking idiots they are.

    Ha Ha Charade you are.

  • Moo Cow||

    Mitch McConnell doesnt need any Democrat votes. Does he?

  • Rat on a train||

    The Democrats where willing to vote for the cuts of they were offset by increased spending elsewhere.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Amazing that the same people who blame Republicans for deficits suddenly whione about children and health care when spending cuts are proposed.

    It is as if they have no principles.

  • tlapp||

    The budget will be cut only after the entitlement crisis becomes the financial crisis and others won't buy our bonds. There will be no one to bail out the US. Not a matter of if, only when. Tick, tick, tick, tick,..................................

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