The Continuing Resolution conundrum

It’s especially true after Speaker Boehner and House Majority Leader Cantor were forced to swap an earlier version of a Continuing Resolution (CR), which would provide money to keep the government operating after the fiscal year ends this month, with one that defunds the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.” This change occurred largely because some conservatives were displeased the original bill wasn’t aggressive enough.  The revised CR passed the House on Friday and is on its way to the Senate, where most expect the Obamacare language to be removed.

Here’s the conundrum, however: Obamacare is a complicated mix of government-expanding programs and harmful regulations that cannot be undone by a defunding effort, whereas the BCA’s limits on federal spending have already been enacted and have begun to take effect.  If left on the books, the caps offer the chance to start getting the entire bloated federal budget under control.

Perhaps that’s why Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) – one of the champions of the campaign to defund Obamacare – recently said of BCA’s spending caps: “It’s probably bigger than Obamacare.”

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Why is holding the line on BCA and its enforcement mechanism (the sequestration process that pares back funding on a range of programs and agencies) so important? As Paul also stated, breaking the caps would be “a complete capitulation and surrender.” To put it slightly more diplomatically, if Congress cannot abide by the spending restraints it passed just two years ago, it would speak volumes about its lack of concern about the long-term debt crisis.

Allowing the President and Senate Democrats to destroy the caps – especially after their doomsday predictions about the sequester turned into a total public relations failure – would be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Fiscal conservatives have had little to cheer about over the past five years. The sequester, which is a subject of great angst for the left, has been one of the very few triumphs for the limited government movement. Alone it won’t come close to wiping out the nearly $17 trillion in debt our government has amassed; nor will it address the looming entitlement crisis. It won’t even eliminate the projected $560 billion deficit. But if conservatives are able to successfully protect it, the sequester will reduce discretionary spending from $988 billion to $967 billion in the upcoming fiscal year. Those are real savings and a welcome reversal from the profligate attitude that has pervaded Congress for the last several decades.

On the other hand, if Congress can’t see this first step through to fruition, there is very little hope for the type of future spending restraint that will be needed to clear all those budget-busting obstacles coming our way.

Free market advocates in Congress should make every attempt to defund, delay and repeal the president’s health care law. But successfully rolling back Obamacare as a condition of passing a CR is extremely unlikely as long as Democrats control the Senate and Obama resides in the White House.

The spending caps are already written into law and protecting them is winnable battle – but only if fiscal conservatives are willing to put up a fight. If they don’t, taxpayers could get the worst of both worlds: Congress will break its promise of modest fiscal restraint by abandoning BCA, even as it allows Obamacare to proceed apace.

Which is why appropriators in the Senate are thrilled by the Republican infighting and the prospect of spending more money. The Senate Appropriations Committee has already passed several spending bills that completely ignore the sequester.

Similarly, Obama stands to benefit if House Republicans cannot agree with one another. The President has offered a plan to undo the sequester with a toxic blend of spending increases and tax hikes on wealthier Americans, investment income, and companies he doesn’t care for, like those in the oil and gas industry. Such a scheme would be a disaster for job creation and a more robust economy.

It’s time for fiscal conservatives to come together to defend the spending caps established by the BCA and sequester. The battle over Obamacare is big, but keeping the caps should not be lost in the shuffle: they are worth fighting for, and now is the time for that fight.

Arnold is vice president of the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union.