After being in the minority for 40 years in the latter part of the 20th century, Republicans have controlled the House for 20 of the past 28 years. Yet the debt has climbed from under $5 trillion in 1994 during the “Republican Revolution” to over $31 trillion today. That’s not just an abstract number. It represents unquantifiable government control over our lives, inducement of entrenched dependency, distorting of our entire economy, creation of artificial monopolies in every vital industry, and a remaking of the national character. And no, this was not just due to the time Democrats controlled one or all branches of government. Now with this great opportunity to finally push a balanced budget, the whining from GOP moderates and fake defense hawks demonstrates exactly why the debt rises always got worse under their watch.
It seems like yesterday when I was writing press releases for Tea Party candidates in 2010 warning apocalyptically about the $12 trillion in debt and the unparalleled levels of spending during Obama’s first year. Now, we’d pine to go back to that level of spending. Yet Republicans are now upset that Speaker Kevin McCarthy promised conservatives that discretionary spending would be frozen at … the insanely high levels of fiscal year 2022!
This week, a number of well-respected Republicans have outed themselves as permanent supporters of endless spending and growth of government. It’s time for them to be honest and drop the vacuous platitude of standing for “limited government.” Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas called McCarthy’s deal on slashing funding “simply a non-swimmer.”
“I think we’ll come to the realization that the ’22 number was rolled off the tongue pretty well, but it’s a lift that we’re not going to be able to make,” Womack told reporters Caitlin Emma and Connor O’Brien last week.
So keeping the spending at Biden’s second year of post-COVID “total state” levels of government control is not enough.
The game Republicans have been playing for years to avoid shrinking (or even slowing the rate of growth of) the bureaucracies is to distract us by saying “entitlement” spending is the real problem (even though they have no intention of dealing with that either). The other trick is to assert that we can’t risk cutting military spending. So therefore we will continue working with Democrats to increase spending for all three categories: defense spending, non-defense discretionary, and so-called mandatory entitlement and welfare programs.
This way of thinking was perfectly exemplified by Womack and Buddy Carter, per Roll Call:
Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack, a senior appropriator and former Budget chairman, talks more like a Ryan Republican when he says discretionary programs aren’t where the real money is.
“This whole notion that we’re going to fix the fiscal trajectory of this country with food fights on discretionary budgets is intellectually dishonest, because that’s not where the problem is. The problem is on the mandatory side, it’s in entitlements,” he said. “We are wasting a lot of time and effort if we are just going to focus on discretionary spending.” […]
He said mandatory spending has to be addressed, but in a way that doesn’t cut benefits for current retirees or those retiring in the near future.
“The Dems are gonna . . . eat our lunch. They’re gonna run commercials saying we’re trying to cut Social Security,” Carter said. “No, we’re trying to save it. We’re trying to stabilize it.”
So, I guess we should just stop using the word conservative. We can’t cut anything because it’s not politically feasible, and discretionary spending is not enough.
“My concern, though, is in order to keep defense numbers, we’d have to have a 20% to 25% cut in non-defense,” Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) said. “Numbers are getting thrown around, $90 billion, $75 billion — there is nothing in our rules that are written that we have to have that kind of a cut. But I worry if you just look at the reality of how these appropriations deals work between defense and non-defense historically, that it could [happen].”
In reality, the intellectual dishonesty stems from the fake excuses and conservative double game played by those like Womack for years. Last month, former OMB Director Russ Vought published a 10-year budget plan that balances the budget doing just this – focusing primarily on non-defense discretionary spending. There are three fundamental flaws with the notion that you can’t balance the budget in ten years with this focus, and they are proven on paper by Vought’s budget.
1) The non-defense discretionary spending creates a woke and weaponized government that takes out hundreds of billions from the private economy and slows growth. So cutting those agencies has a multiplying effect in the long run and is not just chump change.
2) While none of us are advocating to bring military spending down from $800 billion to $500 billion, these phony Republicans define a cut as slowing the rate of baseline spending increases. Vought’s budget doesn’t cut military spending, but it does slow the rate of growth, especially after a massive increase this past year. As I’ve noted before, by reprioritizing our military deployments and deterrent to be against China instead of elsewhere, and ending most foreign aid and over $100 billion for Ukraine in just one year, we can actually increase spending on hardware to deter China while still slowing the overall baseline growth of the topline spending number. Vought demonstrates this in his budget. There are no pure cuts.
So when people like Appropriations Committee Chairman Kay Granger say things like: “There have been reports that House Republicans support cutting our national defense. Let me be clear — this House Republican does not support that position,” they are perpetuating a decades-long stratagem to continue growing government on the backs of pseudo patriotism and, worse, perpetuating an unreformed woke and broken military strategy.
3) Yes, cutting mandatory spending is part of the plan, but not all mandatory spending is created equal. Politicians purposely refer to all of it as “entitlement” spending, as if to say it’s untouchable. But the American people only view Social Security and Medicare as entitlements because of the payroll taxes. Although Social Security and Medicare are, by far, the two most expensive programs, topping $2 trillion annually at this point, there still is roughly $2 trillion in Medicaid, other welfare programs, and government pensions that we should be looking at for reforms. Mandatory spending minus those two programs is estimated to cost $11.8 trillion under the current ten-year baseline, highlighted red below:
It’s through cuts and reforms to those welfare programs that conservatives plan to achieve the balanced budget by the end of ten years.
It’s not like conservatives are even planning to balance the budget right away or pay off the existing debt. This is the bare minimum required to achieve balance without raising taxes, taking away programs people paid into, or causing excessive pain. All who oppose this should just come out and acknowledge they support endless government growth in perpetuity and can’t even stand by Obama-era levels of government largess. Stop campaigning as conservatives and stop lying about cutting spending.
The deadline for the debt ceiling fight will likely boil over during the early summer. This is the biggest opportunity in a generation to finally force a conversation about the purpose, direction, priorities, and size of our entire government. This is the fight and the leverage we have been waiting for. But for those who win elections pretending to be conservative while ensuring the status quo continues, this is a nightmare for which their only refuge is to hide behind the uniforms of our troops.