There are two things everyone should understand about the federal budget.
- First, America faces a grim future because Washington spending will consume an ever-larger share of economic output because of demographic changes and poorly designed entitlement programs.
- Second, the problem could be easily fixed with policies – especially genuine entitlement reform – designed to limit overall spending so that the budget grows slower than the productive sector of the economy.
Sadly, the politicians in Washington generally aren’t interested in sensible fiscal policy. They have a “public choice” incentive to spend more money in hopes of buying more votes.
Congressman Chip Roy, a freshman from Texas, is one of the few lawmakers who objects to the spend-like-there’s-no-tomorrow mentality in Washington.
Here’s some of what he wrote for The Hill:
“… both parties appear to have reached a consensus on one major issue: busting spending caps is their solution to disagreements over spending. … Members of my party would be happy to agree with Democrats’ demands to spend outside our means, so long as they get all the money they want for defense. … The truth is Washington is all about power rather than solving the problem. It’s politically easier for Republicans to press for defense spending and Democrats to push for non-defense spending … Years of out-of-control spending and poor decision making is catching up with us.”
He specifically wants to maintain the spending caps that apply to annually appropriated outlays:
“Instead of wringing our hands and finding political convenient reasons to spend outside our means, Congress should stick to the caps. Doing so will force us – Republicans and Democrats – to sit at the table and negotiate—a lost art in Washington … allowing an across-the-board sequester to kick-in is more responsible than what Congress appears on track to do. … we must act now to do our job. We must stick to the budget caps.”
He’s right about the desirability of a sequester.
Indeed, the sequester that took place in 2013 was the biggest victory for fiscal discipline during Obama’s presidency.
Sadly, politicians since then have been jumping through all sorts of hoops to avoid a second sequester. And the Democrats in the House of Representatives are proposing to bust the spending caps once again.
Here’s a chart prepared by Republicans on the House Budget Committee:
By the way, I’m not citing material from Republicans because they deserve praise.
- I augmented their infographic by noting that GOPers supported a “bad” 2013 deal to bust the spending caps.
- They then busted the spending caps a second time in 2015 and that deal was even “worse” on spending.
- Then the deal Republicans did with Trump in 2018 to bust the spending caps was “awful” for taxpayers.
So even though House Democrats are now proposing something that’s “absurdly terrible,” Republicans don’t have much credibility on the issue.
I’ll close with an observation about Greece’s fiscal tragedy.
There was no single decision that caused that country’s economic crisis. Instead, it was hundreds of short-sighted choices to spend more on Program A, Initiative B, Plan C, and Project D, along with every kind of tax increase under the sun.
And when some people warned that the fiscal orgy eventually would produce bad consequences, they were dismissed or ignored.
Sadly, American is heading down the same path. We know the solution, but politicians are more interested in buying votes than doing what’s right for America.
Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy and is Chairman of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Mitchell is a strong advocate of a flat tax and international tax competition.