Congress should keep its spending promise
Will Congress keep its word?
Michigan’s senators and representatives have to answer this question between now and Sept. 30. By the end of the month, they must pass a federal funding bill for the next year or face a possible government shutdown. Unfortunately, a growing number want a budget that abandons the modest, bipartisan spending levels Congress established four years ago.
They will break their promise to their constituents if they succeed. They made this promise to taxpayers in Michigan and everywhere else in America in 2011, when bipartisan majorities in Congress joined with President Obama to pass the “Budget Control Act.” The law established reasonable annual caps on how fast Washington can increase spending on the one-third of the federal budget that doesn’t go to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs.
Both parties supported this law because government spending was — and is — out of control.
The numbers are astounding. The national debt increased from less than $6 trillion in 2001 to over $14 trillion in 2011. Today, it’s more than $18 trillion—a growth of more than 200 percent under just two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
More to the point, every taxpayer in Michigan now owes over $154,000 and rising. As this number grows, it slows economic growth, makes tax increases on the middle class more likely and threatens Americans’ well-being for generations to come.
The Budget Control Act is a small but necessary first step toward addressing this looming crisis. Its caps have contributed to recent decreases in annual federal deficits, which fell from $1.3 trillion in 2011 to an expected $426 billion in 2015. They are also partially responsible for the consecutive decreases in federal spending in 2012 and 2013— a feat last seen in the mid-1950s.
These are positive developments that should be protected. Yet both Republicans and Democrats have concocted reasons why hardworking Michigan taxpayers should be on the hook for higher spending.
Democrats don’t want any limitations on how much taxpayer money they can throw at government programs, no matter how wasteful or unnecessary they are. Republicans want to increase the defense budget. Never mind that billions of dollars of waste have been identified at the Pentagon. More broadly, no matter where you look in Washington, there are plenty of places where Congress should re-evaluate whether the taxpayer’s money is being well spent.
Yet some members of both parties spent August telling their constituents the Budget Control Act is “draconian” and “arbitrary.” This doesn’t square with the facts, either.
Under the law, the federal budget will still increase every year. The caps will rise by $240 billion in just the next decade, with $68 billion more flowing to defense over the next five years. The rest of federal spending will also rise. Over the same period, the two-thirds of the federal budget that goes to entitlements and interest payments will increase by 68 percent—or $1.5 trillion.
To put it another way: Washington’s spending addiction still needs to be addressed. Even with the Budget Control Act in place, the Congressional Budget Office estimates annual deficits will climb back above a trillion dollars within a decade. The budget caps are the only things preventing this from happening even faster.
This is precisely why the Budget Control Act was passed in the first place. It is a first step toward getting our lawmakers in Congress to set priorities and live within their means, just like the rest of us do. If they break the law’s budget caps between now and Sept. 30, they will only break their promise to Michigan taxpayers.
Marc Short is president and Andy Koenig is senior policy adviser at Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce.