Spending levels based on the congressional budget resolution (BR) were already on the high side; it was projected that nearly a decade (an eternity in politics) would be required to balance the budget. The budget process grinds on, 5/4/15.
To us, such a leisurely timetable for solving the fiscal problem seems unacceptable. We believe an appropriate goal would be to balance the federal budget in three years, primarily by cutting spending, and thereafter keep it that way. SAFE letter to members of Congress, 6/3/13.
Some may consider our assessment misguided or politically naive, but in any case it’s hard to see why the BR spending levels (approved by both Houses of Congress, albeit on a party line vote basis) should be increased across the board without solid evidence that the increases are needed.
Several arguments have been made to justify the spending increases provided for by the BD; let’s take a look at them.
FIRST, it has been suggested that about half of the spending increases would go to the defense budget (which has been subjected to one round of budget cuts after another) – how could conservatives be against that?
This doesn’t justify increases in nondefense spending, however, and the BD won’t increase defense spending anyway. True, budget caps are lifted on defense spending as well as on nondefense spending in fiscal years 2016-17, but there are basically offsetting reductions in the Overseas Contingency Operations allowance. Heritage Foundation, 10/28/15.
SECOND, current spending increases will be recovered in time via accompanying entitlement reforms. That would be great if it were true, but the claim seems greatly exaggerated.
The main area in which savings are claimed is Social Security disability. As matters stand, the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) fund will be exhausted in 2016 (which would force a cut of about 20% in benefit payments for millions of Americans). It would take extensive reforms of the disability program to get benefit payments under control, and we have suggested that conservatives should demand ironclad assurances of such reforms before agreeing to a DI fund bailout (the typical solution of big government fans). Time to do something about Social Security disability program, 6/1/15.
The BD does provides for some Social Security disability reforms, but they are considerably less sweeping than our proposals – basically providing the appearance of reform without much substance. Once funds have been transferred to the DI fund from the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) fund, moreover, the need for bigger changes will likely be forgotten until the DI fund once again runs low. Budget deal pushes disability reform to backburner, Joseph Lawler, Washington Examiner, 11/3/15.
. . . the deal included small-scale money-savers, such as cracking down on fraud, requiring medical information for all disability applications and closing a loophole that allowed married retirees to boost their benefits. It also would reauthorize the Social Security Administration's ability to conduct demonstration projects that allow beneficiaries to return to work without losing benefits.
There is a flurry of changes re pensions guaranteed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, some of which would generate additional revenue. According to the Heritage Foundation analysis, however, said revenue would basically be used to cover new spending.
The BD will mitigate a big Medicare premium increase for well-heeled participants in 2016 under previously existing law. 15 million seniors facing 52% increase in Medicare premiums for 2016, Dave Jolly, godfatherpolitics.com, 9/7/15. Although this “fix” seems justifiable, it will nevertheless increase the deficit.
Numerous other healthcare adjustments have been made (Title VI), and the net effect of all the changes appears to be about a wash. CBO scoring analysis, 10/28/15 (download PDF).
The BD impacts many other areas, including federal crop insurance premiums, the use of automated calls to cell phones by federal debt collectors, sales of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, and the auctioning of unused wireless spectrum (which should result in proceeds around 2025). In relation to the near-term spending increases that the BD enables, the fiscal effects are comparatively minor.
THIRD, the BD may enable Republicans to shed a reputation of being heartless budget cutters who are willing to shut down the government just to get their way. GOP hopes to shed “shutdown” label with budget deal, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, 11/3/15.
Even Republicans who didn't vote for the agreement acknowledged Boehner's deal, written with Democrats, makes it harder for Democrats and Obama to try to inflict political damage on the GOP every time a spending deadline nears.
By that standard, Republicans should never stand on principle for anything. Never mind that an always surrender strategy would leave the GOP with nothing distinctive to offer as a party and no effective defense (the power of the purse) against executive branch overreach. Budget deal passes, 7 observations, Daniel Horowitz, National Review, 10/28/15.
The most under-reported aspect of this deal is that it completely “clears the decks” of any budget bill for the remainder of Obama’s presidency, thereby taking the power of the purse off the table. As bad as the increased spending is for our fiscal solvency, the Obama policies are worse. There will be no budget to leverage against Obama’s growing amnesty, EPA overreach, foreign policy disasters, prison break, and dangerous clemencies.
In the wake of fast track passage of the BD, House Speaker Paul Ryan has promised House Republicans that they will be allowed to help shape the spending bill(s) that are due to be enacted by December 11. Ryan giving all Republicans a say on spending bills, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, 11/5/15.
“Because we want to reopen the appropriations process and we want to bring back the power of the purse, I wanted to lay out options in front of the conference," Ryan said Thursday after polling the rank-and-file. *** "We are going to make this an open process and members are going to have a say on how we move forward."
3. Path forward – It is apparently planned to abandon the original plan of separate appropriation bills for 12 government sectors in favor of an omnibus spending bill for all sectors. A similar arrangement was used in December 2014. House passes $1.1 trillion CR-omnibus bill to partially fund federal government, fsrn.org, 12/12/14.
Although overall spending levels are now set, conservatives still hope to use the power of the purse to achieve some of their legislative goals. A variety of policy riders have been discussed, which could be inserted in the spending bill. Conservatives vow to “not back down” in spending fight, Josh Siegel, dailysignal.com, 11/2/15.
Potential riders besides the provision to end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood could include measures to implement sanctions on Iran; punish sanctuary cities, where local law enforcement officials don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities; and prohibit the Obama administration from implementing new greenhouse gas regulations on power plants.
The Democratic reaction to such riders is predictable; indeed they typify the “ideological issues that have nothing to do with our budget” that the president mentioned when he was signing the BD. Unless Republicans are up for a shutdown scenario, which seems unlikely as they have given up essentially all of the leverage that they initially had, any such provisions in the spending bill passed by the House will be stripped out of said bill before it is passed by the Senate.
What about the ban on using funds to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center? Most likely the Senate will go along with this provision, and it seems unlikely that the president would veto the spending bill as a result (although he did veto a defense policy bill containing said provision earlier). We would think it more likely that the president will seek to close Gitmo by executive order and essentially dare Congress to do something about it. Pentagon to release Guantanamo detainee relocation plan, as Obama pressed ahead with closure, foxnews.com, 11/7/15.
[To take such a tack,] Obama would likely have to argue that the restrictions imposed by Congress are unconstitutional, though he has abided by them for years. The dispute could set off a late-term legal battle with Republicans in Congress over executive power, potentially in the height of a presidential campaign.
Is our prediction a bit paranoid? Maybe, but consider the many instances of executive branch overreach over the past 7 years. Lawless; The Obama Administration’s Unprecedented Assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law, David E. Bernstein (a George Mason law school professor), 2015.
For all the problems this country faces, it’s hard to see much forward progress being made in DC before 2017. The main challenge for conservatives will be doing what they can to prevent further damage and preparing for the 2016 elections.