Budgets, Spending and Government Shutdowns

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

In May, following "weeks of work" by Republican leaders, and a week after a House vote, the Senate adopted the first bicameral budget agreement in a decade. Hooray, right?

Earlier in 2015, the president submitted a budget which, unsurprisingly, proposed massive spending increases and far more future spending. The Republican budget does both, too, but increases spending, on paper, at least, at a slower rate. The president’s Keynesian first-term excuse for increasing spending was the weak economy, yet the economy improved following implementation of modest budget controls — the 2013 budget sequester.

In fact, the slightly-improved, still-uncertain economy was used by Republicans to justify their own spending increases.

But budget resolutions are non-binding political theater. Resolutions aren’t the same as House-originated appropriations bills. Prophetically, New York Democrat, Senator Charles Schumer said: "Our [Republican] colleagues, when…forced to actually put real numbers to these budget numbers in the appropriations process…won’t dare do it."

The gimmicky GOP agreement set the (theoretical) top-line numbers that appropriators use to draft bills for fiscal 2016 funding. Extended, it cut (also theoretically) more than $5 trillion from spending and balanced the budget in ten years.

Sadly, though, Schumer was right. House Republicans passed twelve appropriations bills, all of which increased spending, but not enough to satisfy Senate Democrats or the president.

Anxious congressional Republicans would allow minority Democrats to prevail, because "polling" says that Republicans will be blamed for another government shutdown. Never mind that, despite the 2013 shutdown for which media also blamed them, in the November, 2014 General Election — the only meaningful poll — the GOP won a Senate majority.

In effect, institutional, career congressional Republicans fearfully (cynically?) embrace "crises" — the "imminent threats" of shutdowns — and use them to rationalize and "justify" ever-increasing spending authorizations. Then they blame their own inadequacies and irresponsibility on the Democratic minority’s "certain" Senate filibusters or presidential vetoes.

Without shutdowns, both parties in Congress get what they crave: More government, favorable press and reelection. Both sides win; taxpayers and future generations lose.

Senate leadership could invoke the "nuclear option" to eliminate filibusters on spending bills in the same way former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did to approve the president’s judicial nominations. Other than Senate tradition, there’s nothing constitutionally sacred or even sensible about requiring a sixty percent vote to get to a simple majority vote on appropriations. Since their majority cannot override presidential vetoes, on spending, especially, inaction and shutdowns are the GOP’s best weapons. Pass the bills, let the president veto them. Let him shut down government.

By observing extra-constitutional congressional "processes," Republican officeholders tell Americans that protecting GOP sinecures and growing government are more important than fiscal or moral responsibility.

Republican leaders are playing Americans, especially the party’s conservative wing, for chumps. But the "chumps" are wising up. They want congressional Republicans to force unpopular Democratic votes and presidential vetoes. Without those, there’s no way for voters to tell the differences between the parties in Congress – if, in fact, there are any.