Commentary

GOP Budget: Deficit Spending 'a Sin;' We'll Do It 9 More Years

Terence P. Jeffrey
By Terence P. Jeffrey | August 2, 2017 | 8:58 AM EDT

U.S. Capitol Building (Wikimedia Commons Photo)

The House Budget Committee has approved a budget that declares deficit spending "a sin," makes a powerful case for why this is so, and then presents a plan for continuing in this sin for nine more years.

In that ninth year, if Republicans are still in power, they intend to spend $5.173 trillion while running an $88 billion deficit.

In the tenth year, they intend to spend $5.345 trillion and run a $9 billion surplus.

Thus, will the Republicans in Congress today heroically balance the budget in fiscal 2027 — after increasing the debt every year from 2017 through 2026.

"For too long, the federal government's excessive spending has put future generations at risk," says a statement on the committee's website. "Failure to take swift and decisive action is not only inexcusable, it is immoral."

In its report on the budget resolution it sent the full House last month, the committee spoke in even starker terms. It repeatedly and approvingly quoted from an essay the late Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan published more than 20 years ago — in which he argued for a balanced budget amendment.

"As Nobel Laureate James M. Buchanan wrote: 'Politicians prior to World War II would have considered it to be immoral (to be a sin) to spend more than they were willing to generate in tax revenues, except during periods of extreme and temporary emergency,'" said the report. "'To spend borrowed sums on ordinary items for public consumption was, quite simply, beyond the pale of acceptable political behavior. There were basic moral constraints in place; there was no need for an explicit fiscal rule in the written constitution.'"

As Buchanan noted then, American politicians no longer felt those constraints. Members of Congress could happily borrow and spend money to please voters today that future voters would be taxed to repay.

If they were lucky, they could retire from Congress before reckoning day.

The problem for politicians now is that reckoning day is close enough for any rational mind to foresee.

T

he committee is candid about this, too.

"The growing probability of a sovereign debt crisis is an urgent challenge facing the United States today," says its report.

"If current policies remain unchanged, deficits are about to begin surging, nearly tripling over the next decade," it says.

"Make no mistake, this pattern is due to excessive spending, not insufficient tax revenue," it says.

"Only by controlling spending can Congress alter this catastrophic course," it says.

"The increases in spending, deficits and debt cannot continue — and will not," says the report. "Perhaps major programs will collapse under their own weight. Perhaps investors in Treasury bonds will begin demanding higher returns, further increasing the cost of debt service. Alternatively, investors may begin losing confidence in Washington's ability to correct its fiscal course and take their money elsewhere, leaving the federal government unable to finance its programs — an effect that could cascade unexpectedly. Or perhaps the debt will so burden the economy that growth stagnates altogether.

"In short," says the report, "if policymakers do not start making changes, and soon, the changes will be imposed on the entire country — and they will be unforgiving."

"As noted previously, the government's mounting debt reflects a moral failing," it says. "In the past, policymaker would have considered it nothing less than 'a sin' to routinely spend borrowed money on ordinary present-day uses — forcing future generations to finance today's consumption. A government that promotes such practices through its profligacy corrodes the nation's underlying values — an even more pervasive threat to America's future."

Given its own dire — and correct — analysis, does the committee call for spending cuts? No.

Does it call for a spending freeze? No.

It calls for gradually decreasing the increase in federal spending.

As described by the committee itself, Congress is driving America over a cliff. But instead of bringing the bus to a stop, it advocates tapping the breaks.

"The reductions from projected spending are hardly draconian," the committee says of its budget — as if this is reassuring

"Over the years, Congress has put two-thirds of the budget on auto-pilot, and spending in those areas grows each year. Yet any effort to restrain this growth in spending is cast, in Orwellian fashion, as a 'cut,'" it says.

"This budget does not make sudden 'cuts,'" it says. "Instead it holds spending growth to a manageable rate."

That will be managed in 2027 by whomever holds the House, Senate and White House that year.

Yet the committee does call for the House to approve a balanced budget amendment to send to the states for ratification — and thus constitutionally prohibit Congress from deficit spending.

That would work — so long as Congress obeyed the Constitution.

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSnews.com.

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