Vote Notes: H.Con.Res. 71, the House Budget Resolution for 2018
Today, the House voted in favor of a Senate amendment to H.Con.Res. 71, the House Budget Resolution for 2018. The amendment was actually a whole budget in itself, which replaced the original House-passed text entirely. In other words, the vote was really on the Senate’s budget. While it passed, 216 to 212, I voted no, and I write to offer a little explanation as to why.
In my view, this was an incredibly important vote.
At one level, it was nothing more than a vehicle for tax reform. It’s for this reason that I had supported the House budget twice - both in its passage out of committee and on the floor. In fairness to many of my colleagues, this is why many voted as they did today.
But at another level, it had real significance in signaling which way Congress intends to go on the larger issue of spending. The old saying is “if not now, then when,” and this certainly applies on budgetary matters that have been deferred, deferred, and deferred. As I have said many times, I really do believe that as a nation we are at a crossroads financially. If we do not get our house in order, the financial markets will do it for us, and the history of this process has been brutal for taxpayers that have been subjected to it over the ages.
Financial discipline is a topic that has been pushed aside by both parties for far too long. And while both parties may have been well-intended in eventually getting to it, the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.
So that brings us to this vote. Here is why I felt I had to vote “no” at the end of the day on this one.
We can’t abandon what we believe in to get what we want. Many of us want tax reform, but does financial discipline have to be sacrificed on the altar to getting there? I thought Republicans were the party of lower taxes…and less spending. We may certainly defer or delay things we believe in getting to things we want, but there is a point beyond which deferral becomes inaction. And I think that the Senate budget represented that tipping point.
Republicans and conservatives have always talked about the need for limited government and government living within its means - the question is do we believe it? The House budget at least attempted movement in that direction, as for instance there were $203 billion in mandatory spending cuts. This type of cut would have represented the first effort to do so in the last 13 years. The Senate budget took that number down to $1 billion. I’d ask you to think about that for a second. The federal budget proposes to spend about $53 trillion over the next 10 years. $1 billion is less than two one-thousandths of a percent of $53 trillion. Let me say that again. $1 billion is less than two one-thousandths of a percent of $53 trillion. Are you serious about cutting anything in your budget if you’re only cutting two tenths of one percent? This is particularly the case if you’re already more than $20 trillion in the hole, and well over $100 trillion in the hole when one includes the accumulated political promises of Washington in things like Medicare or Social Security.
The House proposal on mandatory spending was very lean...but it at least represented a small start to addressing that which is unaddressed in Washington. The president and Democrats have said we won’t touch it...but the numbers point to the fact that we have to, and the House budget in very modest form at least began that process. To do nothing was part of the straw that broke the camel’s back in my view of looking at this budget.
Similarly, the House budget balanced over 10 years. In contrast, the Senate budget proposed never balancing. On that proposition alone, you have to stop and ask yourself what is the principle we stand for here on financial matters? In the House debate just a matter of months ago, I joined other Republicans in deriding the progressive and Black Caucus budgets that proposed to never balance. We can’t say one thing and do another on that principle of the importance of balance in our federal books.
I could go on to other things that concern me on the financial front...for instance, the Senate budget broke whatever little financial restraint still exists in Washington in the form of caps, it raised the deficit next year by $147 billion, and it paved the way for borrowing in making tax cuts possible. But I think you get my larger point with regard to walking the walk on spending.
Let me add this postscript on this spending point, we are now in the second-longest economic recovery in American history. Trees do not grow to the sky. They have a stopping point and so do economic expansions. This expansion is now double the average of expansions in the past, and it makes this budget that much more important in signaling financial restraint. When the economy next slows, there will be all kind of reasons to spend more in Washington. And at some point, I believe in the next 10 years if not rectified, we will reach the point of no return in the growth of our debt outpacing the growth of the economy that supports it.
So in summary, words matter. They give us direction and a path. For me, things like the Bible or the Constitution point to true north on where we want to go. They may not be perfectly adhered to, but the clarity on where they would have us go matters. So it is with the budget. And while this one was indeed a vehicle for tax reform, as Republicans, we shouldn’t abandon a clear roadmap to where we want to go on spending. As much as the House budget tried to find a middle ground between some small measure of financial restraint and being a vehicle for tax reform, the Senate budget abandoned that restraint. Doing so at this critical point in the business cycle sends terrible signals as to where Congress will go next on spending and makes our wallets and purses very vulnerable to Washington raids with the next downturn in our economy. For all these reasons, I believed it was important to vote “no.”