The GOP bud­get tug of war

The big spenders are still out­man­ning the forces of fis­cal re­straint

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Betsy McCaughey

The Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity’s bud­get plan — en­acted in a blitz of votes be­fore law­mak­ers rushed home for spring break — tells us which Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls are se­ri­ous about halt­ing the na­tion’s soar­ing debt. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Ken­tucky voted against the GOP plan be­cause it spends too much, while Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina and Marco Ru­bio of Florida led the ranks of big spenders.

One thing’s for sure. The GOP plan for fis­cal 2016 is much bet­ter than Pres­i­dent Obama’s. Say­ing he’s had enough of “mind­less aus­ter­ity,” Mr. Obama blew past the caps on do­mes­tic and de­fense spend­ing he had agreed to in the Bud­get Con­trol Act of 2011. His plan is packed full of new giveaways, such as free com­mu­nity col­lege.

In con­trast, the Repub­li­can plan man­ages to stay un­der the do­mes­tic spend­ing cap — an achieve­ment in Wash­ing­ton’s spen­da­holic cul­ture. When it came to de­fense spend­ing, though, many Repub­li­cans fell back on familiar in­side-the-Belt­way bud­get tricks.

The non­par­ti­san Na­tional De­fense Panel re­ported to Congress that new threats — Rus­sian ag­gres­sion, the col­lapse of the Iraqi army, and the rise of the Is­lamic State — re­quire more front-line mil­i­tary spend­ing. Mr. Obama has dec­i­mated front-line ca­pac­ity and spent funds in­stead for more civil­ian staff at the Pen­tagon. The Pen­tagon’s civil­ian work­force is up to a stag­ger­ing 744,000, while mil­i­tary per­son­nel have been cut and weapons sys­tems can­celed.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers all agree more spend­ing on battle readi­ness is needed. But they dis­agree over how to deal with the de­fense spend­ing cap. One ob­vi­ous rem­edy is to re­di­rect funds from civil­ian desk jobs to com­bat per­son­nel and weapons. An­other is to cut do­mes­tic spend­ing by how­ever much de­fense spend­ing ex­ceeds the cap.

Sadly, the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity opted for nei­ther, and in­stead re­sorted to an ac­count­ing gim­mick, adding new spend­ing to an Over­seas Con­tin­gency Fund that is ex­empt from the cap.

Out­raged, Repub­li­can Rep. Mike Mul­vaney of South Carolina laments that in the House, “Fis­cal hawks make up a mi­nor­ity of the party right now,” and he won­ders whether “deficits and debt still mat­ter.”

Ditto for the Se­nate. Repub­li­can Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama calls spend­ing caps “one of the best things that’s hap­pened to the fi­nances of this coun­try.” But Mr. Gra­ham dis­misses them as “dumb.” He says “this is a war within the Repub­li­can Party.” Sadly, big spenders are win­ning.

Mr. Paul of­fered a pro­posal to off­set the de­fense hikes with cuts to do­mes­tic spend­ing, but it was de­feated 96-4. That’s a dis­cour­ag­ing sign that vot­ers are not go­ing to get what they were promised last Novem­ber: a se­ri­ous ef­fort to con­trol costs and ad­dress the soar­ing debt.

If you run a busi­ness or a fam­ily bud­get and you’re forced to spend un­ex­pect­edly in one area, you cut else­where. Congress could have started by cut­ting the 100 most un­nec­es­sary gov­ern­ment projects, sav­ing $25 bil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to for­mer Sen. Tom Coburn’s “Waste­book.”

Among them is a grant to Columbia Uni­ver­sity to in­vent in­ter­ac­tive games that spur cli­mate change ac­tivism, and a grant to the Colorado Sym­phony Orches­tra to host a mar­i­juana mu­sic fes­ti­val called “the High Note Se­ries. ” Bet­ter to cut th­ese than to hand out pink slips to sol­diers. An­other dis­cour­ag­ing sign is the deal House Speaker John Boehner made with Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi re­cently on the so-called “doc fix.” Congress was up against a dead­line to pre­vent pay cuts to doc­tors treat­ing Medi­care pa­tients. To woo Democrats, Mr. Boehner agreed to a two-year ex­ten­sion of the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram and a $7.2 bil­lion grant to Com­mu­nity Health Cen­ters that serve largely il­le­gal im­mi­grants. This pack­age of en­ti­tle­ment good­ies costs $214 bil­lion, and a whop­ping twothirds is un­paid for. No one in Congress lifted a fin­ger to find cuts in other pro­grams to off­set th­ese new costs. In­stead, the bil­lions will be piled on the na­tion’s debt.

Mr. Boehner and Mrs. Pelosi con­grat­u­lated them­selves on their bi­par­ti­san­ship. “This is what we can ac­com­plish when we fo­cus on find­ing com­mon ground,” Mr. Boehner proudly an­nounced. Com­mon ground for Wash­ing­ton politi­cians, but not for John Q. Tax­payer and his grand­kids. They’ll be pay­ing for­ever.

Betsy McCaughey is au­thor of “Beat­ing Oba­macare 2014” (Reg­n­ery, 2014) and a se­nior fel­low at the Lon­don Cen­ter for Pol­icy Anal­y­sis.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

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