Vote Notes: H.R. 3354, the Omnibus Bill
I continue to believe that unsustainable spending represents our greatest threat. This is true for its potential to undermine our republic - just as it is in its ability to take from each of us much of what we have worked for over the courses of our lives.
In this light, it was in many ways not surprising that I voted yesterday against H.R. 3354, the omnibus bill. It was made up of twelve smaller spending bills funding different parts of the federal government. Four of those smaller bills, which authorized $789.6 billion in defense related spending, were already passed by the House at the beginning of August in H.R. 3219. Today’s bill combined those four bills with eight others, which authorize a combined $437 billion in non-defense spending, resulting in an omnibus funding bill authorizing a total of $1.23 trillion in federal spending for 2018. This was $61.3 billion more than in 2017 and $67.5 billion above the current law caps on discretionary spending for 2018.
The bill passed, 211 to 198.
There were several aspects of this bill which I fully support on their own. For example, this bill would prevent enforcement of the Obamacare individual mandate, repeal potentially harmful regulations such as the Waters of the United States rule, enforce pro-life policies like the Conscious Protection Act, and kickstart construction of a wall along our southern border with Mexico. Unfortunately, none of these valuable riders stand much of a chance of making their way through the Senate - and what we will be left with is simply the “more” spending component.
Given that reality, conservative policy riders such as these must be pursued in light of sustainable spending. So, my no vote was in large measure not about the particulars of these appropriation bills - they were arguably as good as they were going to get in this year; it was about the foundation on which they are constructed, and that is clearly unsustainable spending.
Let’s dig a little deeper here.
Under the House Budget Resolution for 2018, the $61.3 billion increase in spending over last year would be paid for by suggested cuts to mandatory spending of $200 billion. The problem is these mandatory spending cuts may or may not come at any point in the next ten years. No Congress can obligate another Congress. They’re new every two years. To suggest that we can dictate policy five Congresses from now is inventive…but hardly financially prudent. It’s for this reason that the Congressional Budget Office presumes that this year’s deficit would increase by $65 billion.
In 2015, the deficit was $439 billion. In 2016, it increased to $587 billion. The deficit for 2017 was projected to be $559 billion back in January. However, in June that estimate was increased to $693 billion - and this was before Hurricanes Harvey and Irene...or the wildfires out west. I believe we are rapidly approaching a one trillion dollar deficit.
And this is in “good” economic times….can you imagine what will happen when the economy turns south? Think on this for a moment. We are currently in the 3rd longest period of continuous economic expansion in our country’s history, which thus far has lasted eight years. Another two years of expansion would literally be unprecedented.
Several key economic indicators also tend to signal a coming recession. Household net worth to personal disposable income and gross domestic product are both higher than they have ever been. They had previously peaked just prior to the dotcom bubble and then again prior to the real estate bust of 2008 and 2009.
The amount of interest we will have to pay on our national debt going forward will also compound our spending problem. Ten years from now, the Congressional Budget Office projects we will pay $818 billion in interest on that debt...more than we are projected to spend on national defense in that same year.
Finally, I strongly believe that the House budget’s economic growth projections are unrealistically optimistic, just as the Trump budget projections have already been shown to be by the Congressional Budget Office. What does this mean? It means that if we don’t hit these numbers, you add an additional three trillion dollars to the national debt over the next ten years.
In the real world, we adjust our business and family budgets regularly. And in doing so, we may increase one category while we decrease another - that’s the whole idea of a budget. We set priorities and, accordingly, have to adjust things around them. We don't just add to the wish list. Unfortunately, addition - rather than subtraction - formed the basis of this year’s appropriations process. I don't think that approach reflects the spending decisions people along the coast of South Carolina would like to see in Washington, and consequently, I voted as I did.