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Democrats must push aside absurd demand for 'parity' budget spending

Democrats must push aside absurd demand for 'parity' budget spending
© Camille Fine

For every dollar you spend on groceries, do you spend another dollar on clothes? When you write your monthly check for rent or mortgage, do you feel compelled to run to the gas station and spend just as much on gas? Of course not. It makes no sense to peg one to the other.

But this is what the Democrats are demanding in the latest budget negotiations. They call it parity. In the latest round of negotiations to modify the Budget Control Act (BCA) spending caps, Democratic leadership is demanding parity that for every dollar increase in defense spending, they want an extra dollar spent on non-defense programs.

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It is an absurd demand. It discards any rational thinking about governmental priorities and proper allocation of limited resources. Rather, it’s a gimmick to feed Washington’s spending addiction and continue ineffective and wasteful programs.

The BCA places separate caps on defense and non-defense discretionary spending through 2021. The caps are enforced through automatic cuts, called sequestration. This division has reinforced a longstanding political delusion that all discretionary programs are created equal, regardless of need, effectiveness or constitutional mandate.

Additionally, it has had the unintended consequence of establishing a winning coalition for spending increases among lawmakers who recognize the need for a stronger defense budget and lawmakers who wish to boost funding for their pet domestic projects.

Congress should end the arbitrary distinction between defense and non-defense discretionary spending and establish a single cap for all discretionary spending instead. This would force lawmakers to make hard decisions about what stays and what goes, removing the “easy way out” compromise of simply increasing spending across the board and adding tens of billions of dollars to the deficit.

There is no question that we need to rebuild our weakened military. Year after year, Pentagon officials have expressed their concerns over the way lawmakers have cut their budgets even as their mission requirements have increased. This mismatch has led to a military that is unprepared to execute the missions expected of it. It is partially why the Heritage Foundation has judged our military to be only marginally capable of executing its solemn responsibilities.

This marginal capacity is reflected in the fact that U.S. training casualties are now comparable to war casualties. The decline in capacity is further compounded by the fact that the BCA cuts have disproportionately targeted defense, bearing over 42 percent of the cuts.

Congress has a constitutional mandate to provide for the common defense. Meanwhile, countless non-defense programs fall well outside of the constitutional duties assigned to the federal government. Many of these programs don’t work. Many others benefit only a select group of businesses or other special interests, all at the expense of taxpayers.

Instead of giving these programs more money for parity’s sake, Congress should trim the fat or eliminate them altogether and use the savings to bolster national defense. Heritage’s Blueprint for Balance identifies more than 100 discretionary programs that could be reformed in 2018 alone.

Congress should reject absurd demands to match defense spending increases with hikes in non-defense spending. Fiscal responsibility demands that lawmakers rationally prioritize spending to reflect their constitutional responsibilities and truly national needs.

Buying $100 worth of clothes every time we spend $100 on groceries would leave us overdressed on the road to the poorhouse. The federal government should not make this mistake again.

Frederico Bartels is a policy analyst specializing in defense budgeting at the Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy. Justin Bogie is a senior policy analyst in specializing fiscal affairs at the Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.