September 29, 2011
When it comes to budget cuts, Congress is just a tease
At the stroke of midnight Friday, the fiscal year ends. When the final numbers are in, the government will have grown larger. Despite politicians spouting off about tough cuts, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported federal outlays have gone up by $118 billion through August. America is barreling over the cliff into bankruptcy, but Washington isn’t willing to stop the train.
The same political games drove the debate over the Continuing Resolution (CR) this week. It funds the government until Nov. 18 at the topline levels from the debt deal that earned the United States a credit-rating downgrade, rather than the $19 billion lower target in the House-passed budget crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.
Led by Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, 48 conservatives voted down the first attempt at a CR. Leaders came back with the fig leaf $100 million offset from a scandal-plagued “green” program to boost short-term disaster funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The revised CR passed with 24 conservatives, including Rep. Tim Huelskamp, dissenting. “I said ‘no’ because a projected $973 billion deficit for next year is not good enough,” the Kansas freshman told The Washington Times. “This Continuing Resolution falls short of making good on the promises House Republicans offered in the Pledge to America and sticking to the budget principles we affirmed in the Path to Prosperity.”
By the time the CR came up for a vote in the Senate, FEMA found $100 million under the sofa cushions, and the bill passed without the offset. The House is expected to get it to the president’s desk in time to avert the shutdown threat. After seven similar battles in the last 10 months, nothing has changed.
Cowed by fears of being called partisan, Republican leaders returned from August recess forswearing conflict through the 2012 election. Senate Democrats don’t even pretend to deal with fiscal issues. They haven’t put out a budget since April 2009 and didn’t pass a single appropriations bill for 2012. To its credit, the House passed a budget and six funding bills, but a strong reform budget doesn’t do much good if it’s not enforced.
The time has come to break the endless cycle of ever bigger government by using honest numbers. Both Republicans and Democrats play by the rules of appropriators who conjure up budget “cuts” that refer to reductions in the size of expected increases. CBO uses these phony, projected spending levels with built-in increases for inflation as a baseline. Government will never shrink so long as this is the case.
That’s why the Republican Study Committee in the House has been pushing “zero baseline budgeting” that eliminates the assumption that every government program gets to play with more money every year. It’s a simple budgetary change that would force lawmakers to justify every dime of spending again each year.
Gimmicks and disingenuous talking points have left this country with a crushing $14.7 trillion debt. Forcing reality into the public discourse is the only cure to Washington’s big-spending habit.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.