It’s no secret that politicians in both parties love big spending. And it’s probably no surprise that they also despise any limits on their ability to spend without restraint.
Take the Budget Control Act: This small effort to control growth in spending was passed back in 2011 in exchange for hiking the debt limit. Since then, the BCA has functioned as one of the most significant spending restrictions in a generation, for better or worse.
Along the way, it’s also become a telling benchmark of just how much politicians are committed to fiscal responsibility and reducing spending.
When the law passed in 2011, one of its stipulations was that a so-called “Super Committee” had to identify one trillion dollars in cuts. When they couldn’t do their job, a set of lowered spending caps and across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, took effect.
The sky may not have fallen, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell by listening to politicians at the time. Unsurprisingly, many of them came together to roll back the consequences of their own actions with the Ryan-Murray budget deal.
Many of us who observe the budget were unhappy with dodging accountability this way, but at least then, the case could be made that the cuts it lifted were significant – by Washington standards, anyway. And they were at least replaced with some mandatory spending reforms.
Meanwhile, the Budget Control Act limits – along with the sequester – remained in place. This was the deal fiscal conservatives were promised.
To no one’s surprise, however, the bait and switch has begun again in earnest. A new budget season is upon us, and this time, many politicians are just as determined to roll back the caps or even ignore them altogether, which would trigger yet another round of unpopular sequestration.
Budgeting and budget rules are complicated. But what’s happening here is not. Politicians promised to limit themselves in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling – and ever since, they’ve been acting as though the limits they agreed to do not exist.
We know that all areas of government contain waste – lots of it. But too many in both parties seem to have forgotten promises to get spending under control in their frantic push to preserve the status quo.
Fiscal conservatives find ourselves in a time when trimming $20 billion off of the President’s $4 trillion budget proposal is treated as the height of self-restraint.
It would be one thing if the fight were against those who have no pretense of wanting to cut spending and reign in government. But the biggest threat to budget responsibility comes straight from the majority Republican Party.
Just a few weeks ago, the House and Senate passed budgets with some very good plans for reform. There was, though, one glaring exception: both documents only barely kept to the BCA limits when it came to Pentagon spending. What’s worse, they increased the Overseas Contingency Operations slush fund so much that President Obama may even use a little-known power to reject it.
And this problematic plan wasn’t good enough for a sizable contingency of the party, as rumblings of another deal to lift the caps continue.
I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound like the change we were promised when Republicans swept Congress just a few short months ago.
No one would claim the current rules are perfectly able to solve our looming fiscal crisis, but one thing is clear: Congress must hold to the Budget Control Act caps. To bait and switch once again on such a simple promise is nothing less than unacceptable.