It’s spending season in Washington, and once again, funding for the troops is being used as a political bargaining chip.
Congress hasn’t passed any of the 12 spending bills required to fund the government by September 30, and the clock is ticking. Democrats are trying to finagle a two-year spending deal that will drastically increase spending and open the door to negotiations on a host of issues where they’d like to confront President Donald Trump. Senate Republicans, in a face-slapping move to the president, are inclined to agree with them.
The White House is not as eager to cut a deal with Democrats. Rather, they’ve floated a one-year spending extension (known in Washington-speak as a continuing resolution, or a "CR"), which freezes spending at current levels, and doesn’t allow Democrats to block their efforts on deregulation or roll back critical pro-life policies.
Congress and the White House should be cutting spending from last year’s levels, not freezing them. But Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), are using the military as a pawn to spend even more.
A one-year CR, according to McConnell, will cut funding for the troops by $71 billion. Other Senate Republicans have pointed to the sequester — legally required spending cuts — as a reason to oppose the White House plan.
Even though there is every indication that the White House is taking a reasonable approach to these negotiations, the insatiable spenders in Congress are refusing to even engage with the White House. Moreover, their comments are a misrepresentation of what the White House is proposing and ignorant of how these exact same issues have been handled in the past.
First and foremost, the military pay increase required by law will go into effect, regardless. It’s dealt with in the National Defense Authorization Act, which has already passed both the House and the Senate.
But most importantly, the White House appears prepared to sign a bill that gives the Department of Defense ("DOD") flexibility to spend money where need be — the same way past CRs have provided for bomb-resistant vehicles in Iraq and nuclear submarines moving through the acquisition process.
If appropriators, the members of Congress in charge of spending, are really concerned about defense spending, they’ll give DOD the necessary flexibility in a CR — the same way many of them did in 2011 and 2012, when DOD was under a CR for 279 days.
But there are other critical factors for why a two-year spending strategy is both a negligent and careless way to make policy for Republicans.
The Congressional Budget Office recently released its long-term spending outlook for the next ten years, and it’s a doozy. Spending as a percentage of gross domestic product ("GDP") rises to 20.7% this year and will rise to 28% of GDP by 2049. Only three years (the war-time years of 1944 and 1945, as well as 2000) have had higher spending-to-GDP ratios. Meanwhile, the share of the debt held by the public will rise from 78% of GDP in 2019 to 144% in 2049.
The need for a reduction — or at the very least, a slowdown — in spending is obvious. Unfortunately, the White House isn’t aggressively demanding spending cuts. Rather, the White House’s proposal will freeze spending for one year, which still results in $34 billion in savings as compared to what the House has already passed. Contrast this to the two-year spending strategy pushed by Senate Republicans, which requires a backroom deal with Democrats — who will not agree to anything without a massive increase in spending.
Equally as important, leading conservatives have pointed to the numerous policy provisions that would be put at risk by opening negotiations with Democrats. Key gains, from deregulatory policies that have saved American taxpayers millions of dollars and pro-life policies that prevent taxpayer dollars from being spent on abortion, to the recent decision to prevent taxpayer funding on research from aborted baby parts, will all be put at risk by a Democratic Party that almost exclusively supports abortion up until, and after, the moment of birth.
With a Republican majority in the Senate and a Republican in the White House, the party is well positioned to force Democrats to the table on their terms — not cede to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as Mitch McConnell appears eager to do.
“No politician has ever lost office for spending money,” McConnell reportedly told the president in the Oval Office last month.
This is absurd. Bloated government spending was the cause célèbre that resulted in wave elections in the Reagan Revolution in 1980, the Gingrich Revolution in 1994, and the Tea Party wave in 2010. The 2010 election should be particularly memorable for McConnell — as the election where his consiglieri, big-spending appropriator Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), lost his primary to a fiscally conservative upstart named Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).
Once the curtain is pulled back, it’s clear that Senate Republicans are offering the same tired arguments for increasing spending and, in doing so, are giving Nancy Pelosi and House progressives the opportunity to undo key policy gains from a Republican administration.
Once again, the troops are being used as a political football to carry other bloated, unnecessary spending. Who wins with a two-year spending deal strategy? K street lobbyists, establishment Republicans, and progressive Democrats. Who loses? The taxpayers, who get fleeced. Again.
In other words, it’s business as usual in Washington. The Trump administration’s proposed one-year CR doesn’t go nearly far enough, but it’s far preferable to the proposal being floated by the big spenders on Capitol Hill.
Rachel Bovard is policy director at Conservative Partnership Institute.