Why is it that spending always seems to win in any government? Jefferson warned two hundred years ago that the normal course of things was for government to gain ground and for liberty to yield, and unfortunately yesterday’s Ryan-Murray budget deal was another data point in support of our third President’s hypothesis. I voted against the deal because it raised spending while shattering Washington’s only current platform for financial constraint.
This is not to say that its authors weren't trying to fix a problem, they were and I applaud them. They even had some steps toward reining in spending that suggested important bipartisan compromise. It is just that their fix will prove most expensive for us as taxpayers.
Leaving spending aside for one moment, I have been struck since returning to Congress, after a 13 year absence, with the disappearance of the budget process in our nation’s Capitol. What were once yearly debates on each of the 12 categories of government spending, have now devolved to the point that the operations of our government are run on automatic pilot. In Washington they are called “Continuing Resolutions” and they simply fund the portions of government under Congress’s yearly oversight as they were funded the year before. It’s bad for the taxpayer and disastrous for the aspects of government that we fund because it neither rewards, nor penalizes, the parts of government that do and don’t work.
The question we had to ask in this debate was should a return to the correct budget process in Washington cost $63 billion? More precisely the question is should we spend $63 billion for the promise of going back to that process for the guarantee of just a year, or if we were lucky 24 months?
Even if we got a return to the normal budget process in Washington, the bill still had glaring deficiencies in raising spending and adding yet a bit more in taxes.
On spending it did what Washington always does, increase it now and promise to pay it back later. So the $63 billion of new spending comes overwhelmingly in the first year, and the promise to repay comes overwhelmingly after ten years. It means the deficit would go up by $41 billion in just the next 24 months. Even more frightening was that minutes after we took the vote, the deal began to prove anything but binding. We won’t have to wait for ten years to see if Congress will abide by the new spending limits; they were broken within ten minutes! It’s ridiculously hard to believe, but literally the next vote we took after the budget deal was the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. It overwhelmingly passed and authorized spending levels for defense at $31.6 billion higher than the cap in the Ryan-Murray budget deal.
So let’s think about this. Congress passes a law to hold the line on spending. This bill on Thursday breaks that law for a new deal that will hold the line on spending, and within about ten minutes Congress has already laid the course for breaking that law.
As if all this were not enough, this bill would raise taxes. They are not called taxes, but if it involves money leaving my wallet and heading to Washington, it’s sure a first cousin. In this case the fees we pay to fly will be going up.
We might have passed the “clean” Continuing Resolution the President, and House and Senate Democrats were calling for a month ago, and taken some time to consider all these things. Sometimes no deal is the better deal, and Thursday night it struck me that there was something to what Jefferson articulated. At minimum, hanging onto any spending restraint one can find in Washington is important, because the only budget you can count on is this year’s.